A view from Dave Trott: What can advertising learn from plumbers?
A view from Dave Trott

What can advertising learn from plumbers?

Like everyone, I’ve always had trouble finding a good plumber.

It’s best to get a recommendation from a friend, but even then every plumber I’ve ever had has been the same.

Shaking their head and sucking air through their teeth: “Tut tut, who fitted that? That’ll have to come out, you’ll need a new one.”

Straight away, it’s never less than several hundred quid for a new whatever.

I’ve had new circulating pumps, new re-circulating pumps, new backup pumps, new sump pumps.

As soon as there’s a problem, the answer is: “The old one’s dead, better fit a new one.”

Recently, in our shower, the thermostat was stuck on hot and wouldn’t move, I asked the plumber if he could fix it.

He said he’d have to knock out all the tiles so he could put a whole new thermostat in.

That’s a MAJOR job, I didn’t want all the tiles knocked out, so I put it off for a year.

Then one day, our dentist said they had a good plumber who took care of the whole building for all the tenants.

His name was Vince (Spurs supporter but can’t be helped) I told him about my thermostat.

Vince unscrewed the control and took the insides out, then replaced the insides without touching a tile.

So I told him my son’s shower pump had gone and would probably need replacing.

Vince had a look and said: “Nah, it’s just the cut-out switch, I’ve got another one in the van.”

Both jobs took a couple of hours and cost a quarter of what I was expecting to pay.

Vince has since done half-a-dozen jobs for me without replacing anything major.

Just by fixing what was there, I’ve never had a plumber do that before.

Every other plumber just takes out the old whatever and replaces it with a brand new one.

Then it dawned on me: Vince is a MAINTENANCE plumber, he looks after entire buildings. 

The other guys are all INSTALLATION plumbers: show up, quickly fit a new one and go.

They won’t make money by repairing things, that takes time and effort.

They make more money, faster, by taking something out and putting a new one in.

Which is bad news for the customer, but good news for the plumber.

Pretty much the same as advertising.

It’s a cliché that the first thing a new marketing director does is change the advertising.

They run a pitch, then get a new agency and a new campaign.

The old campaign gets junked, and all the money gets spent on a new one.

I was always taught the point of a campaign is it’s like piling pound coins on top of one another.

Each pound gets added to the pile, making it bigger.

But if you start a new campaign, you have to start all over again at the bottom.

Which is why it’s barmy to throw away a campaign if there’s any life left in it.

John Webster launched Walkers crisps in the mid-1980s using Gary Lineker.

A decade later that campaign had built them into the biggest crisp brand in the country.

But PepsiCo was realigning its agencies, and they moved Walkers from BMP to AMV.

Abbott Mead were smart, they didn’t just chuck out the campaign and start again, they kept the Gary Lineker campaign and renovated it.

And that campaign carried on building the brand for decades more.

AMV are grown-ups, they know when to be installation plumbers and when to be maintenance plumbers.

Don’t chuck out a perfectly good campaign just because your agency doesn’t know how to extend its life, don’t throw all that money away.

Instead, find a plumber who can do more than just installation

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