A view from Dave Trott: The advertising elephant
A view from Dave Trott

The advertising elephant

Jainism is a very gentle religion.

One of their beliefs is there is no single right answer to everything.

It is called Syavada Anekantvad, illustrated by the story of the blind men and the elephant.

A wise man arrives in a village where six blind men are arguing.

An elephant walked through the village and they each had a second to stroke it.

The first blind man only felt the tusk, he said an elephant was like a spear.

The second blind man just felt the tail, he said an elephant was like a vine.

The third blind man just felt the trunk, and said an elephant was like a snake.

The fourth blind man only felt the side, he said an elephant was like a huge wall.

The fifth blind man just felt the ear, and said an elephant was like a large leaf.

The sixth blind man only felt the leg, and said an elephant was like a tree.

The blind men asked the wise man, because he could actually see the elephant, which of them was right.

The wise man said they were all right, but they were also all wrong.

They all understood part of the truth, but none of them understood the whole truth. Because none of them had seen the whole elephant, just their individual part of it, and they mistook that for the whole.

This simple story reminds me of a debate I often hear between planners and creatives.

Creatives say planners have ruined advertising by making it too complicated.

Planners say creatives don’t care about effectiveness, just winning awards.

Like the elephant story, both are right and both are wrong.

Because mainly, planners and creatives don’t see the big picture, just their part.

They, like account handlers and media, think their part is the whole thing so they do their job in a vacuum.

None of them understand the complete picture of advertising.

Planners (aka strategists) think the whole job is to deliver a message about the brand.

Creatives think the whole job is an ad that stands out, stylishly and artistically.

Media think the whole job is to get as many insertions as possible in the most highly targeted spaces.

Account handling think the job is to keep the client happy.

And it’s true, all those are part of the job.

But none of those alone is the whole job, only together are they the whole job.

If we don’t make original impactful advertising, no-one will notice it or remember it.

So everything else will be wasted effort and money.

But if we don’t get the brand messaging right, even if people notice and remember the ad, no-one will remember who the ad was for or what it said.

And even if we get the brand messaging and the advertising right, but we run it under a railway bridge where no-one can see it, then all that effort is wasted.

And, of course, if the client hates the agency and takes the business somewhere else, then we don’t get to do the advertising in the first place.

So all of those things are part of the answer that builds to great advertising.

The problem is, there’s hardly anywhere where all those things happen, where everyone  sees the whole elephant.

Impactful, memorable advertising, delivering the right message, in the most powerful, cost-effective media, with a happy, engaged client.

That’s why it shouldn’t be an argument between departments.

We should be training ad people who understand, and participate in, the whole job, not just one part of it.

When everyone understands how the separate parts fit together to create a whole, then we’ll have great advertising.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three