A view from Dave Trott: Get to the bottom of it
A view from Dave Trott

Get to the bottom of it

In 1912, the Titanic sank, the most famous shipwreck ever.

For over 70 years, no-one could find it until, in 1985, Dr Robert Ballard did.

It was over two miles down in the Atlantic, where the pressure would crush any human.

But Dr Ballard had developed a remote-control submersible that could show a TV picture of what no human had ever seen before.

The discovery of the wreck reignited the public’s interest to such an extent it knocked all other news off the front pages.

Which was exactly the point.

There are three creative parts to the discovery of the Titanic on the seabed.

The first part is that discovering the Titanic wasn’t the real mission at all.

Discovering the Titanic was just the cover story to disguise the real purpose.

The real purpose was to investigate the wrecks of two US nuclear submarines: the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion.

In 1963, the Thresher had disappeared in the Atlantic with nuclear weapons onboard.

In 1968, the Scorpion had disappeared while shadowing a Russian naval task force.

The US Navy wanted to know if either sub had been sunk by the Russians.

But they didn’t want to let the Russians know what they were doing.

Searching for the Titanic was a great cover story, all the newspapers concentrated on that, and nobody even suspected the real reason.

Which leads us to the second creative part in the story.

The US Navy didn’t know that Dr Ballard really was searching for the Titanic.

He’d spent years studying the exact location of where he thought the Titanic would be lying, but he didn’t have enough funds to conduct a search.

Then he found it was roughly between two missing American submarines.

He went to Deputy Commander of Naval Operations, Ronald Thunman, with a suggestion.

Dr Ballard had developed a new deep-sea exploration vehicle.

Wouldn’t it be a great idea to fund it to investigate the two missing subs and use the Titanic as a cover story?

Thunman agreed and the operation went ahead, with only a few people knowing the US Navy’s real purpose.

Ballard found the two subs and established that they hadn’t been sunk by the Russians.

He then had to pretend to go through with the cover story which, for him, was the real purpose.

Which was the third creative part.

Dr Ballard said: "I didn’t look for the wreck, it’s too small in a vast ocean – I had to think like a deer hunter: a deer hunter doesn’t look for a deer, he looks for tracks, then follows the tracks."

So that’s what he did, he knew that the heaviest parts would sink first, so he looked for debris and followed the ocean current until the trail lead him to the wreck.

Dr Ballard did what the US Navy never expected him to do, he actually found the wreck.

Which, in the event, made the cover story work even better.

The US Navy let the public believe what they wanted to believe, and Dr Ballard let the US Navy believe what they wanted to believe.

That’s a great lesson for those of us that work in advertising.

Instead of thinking about what we want and trying to force people to agree with us, just work out what they want.

Then work out how what we want lines up with what they want.

Then get out of the way and let them have what they want.

And they’ll be so pleased they won’t even notice we’re getting what we want.

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