A view from Dave Trott: Get the basics right
A view from Dave Trott

Get the basics right

Years ago, I’d just got off a plane in Portland Oregon.

We were shooting an animated commercial and we asked the two best stop-frame companies in the world to quote: Aardman and Claymation.

Claymation came in cheapest, so that’s where we went to shoot.

Outside Portland airport I got into a cab.

The lady driver seemed a bit stressed, so I asked her how her day was going.

She said: “To tell you the truth, not very well.

“I just picked up a gentleman who’d flown in from New York and he gave me the name of a hotel in Portland – I said I didn’t know that hotel.

“He said he thought I was supposed to be a cab driver, how come I didn’t know the biggest hotel in Portland?

“I said I’d lived in Portland all my life and never heard of it.

“So he got out his cell phone and called his secretary and said he’s supposed to be giving a speech at a hotel in Portland in an hour and the dumb cab driver didn’t even know where it was, so give him the damned address to tell her.

“The next thing I hear, he’s yelling: ‘Portland MAINE, what the fuck am I doing in goddam Portland OREGON? You are so fucking fired.’

“Then he yells to me to turn the damn cab around and get him back to the airport quick.

“I don’t know what he thinks he’s gonna do, Portland Maine is the other side of the country from Portland Oregon, that’s 3,000 miles.

“He sure ain’t gonna make that in an hour.”

My first thought being English was, what a rude sod, I’m glad he missed his speech.

My second thought was, how difficult would it have been to check which Portland it was before you booked your ticket?

Answer, not very.

But because he didn’t check the simple basic things first, he blew the entire point of the trip.

His time was wasted, his money was wasted, and the time and money of everyone sitting in the audience waiting for his speech, plus the cost of hiring the hotel and the time of everyone organising the event, plus all the time he spent writing his speech and getting his PowerPoint slides together, plus whatever impression he wanted to make on any potential clients or trade journalists looking at an empty stage.

All because he didn’t check the simplest, most basic part of the job: where am I going?

He was too important, too busy, too many bigger jobs to do, too involved in the theatre of work and being seen to be important.

And that’s what happens when we can’t be bothered with the basics.

Well, let’s pause for a second, what do we think the basics might be in our business?

Is it brand purpose?

Is it research?

Is it digital strategy?

All those things are important BUT, is there anything without which nothing happens?

Something as basic as putting the walls up before you put the roof on.

For me, Bill Bernbach – the man who invented good advertising – is always the best place to look for advice.

Bernbach said: “If no-one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”

In other words: if no-one sees it, it didn’t happen.

Everyone’s TV, laptop, tablet or mobile phone might as well be turned off.

So it’s no good having a beautifully shot, wonderful brand purpose, well-researched, digital strategy if the advertising doesn’t get noticed and remembered.

All because we’re too important to bother with basics: making ads people want to watch.

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

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