All my heroes are equal but George Orwell is more equal than others.
I’m not taken to affection for old Etonian propagandists, after all there are enough of them stuffing up the country at the moment. But I make an exception for George.
You may love him for his lifelong opposition to totalitarianism but my hero worship is altogether less worthy. As far as I can see, as a master essayist, he basically invented blogging. While his exploration of society’s underbelly means he definitely invented ethnography. And at a push I’d try to claim that he was one of the first people to challenge their unconscious bias.
But Orwell is mainly my hero for his unrelenting opposition to orthodoxy. I mean, he didn’t pull any punches when he said: "Orthodoxy means not thinking. Not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." Now, there’s someone that really hated cliché, truism and accepted wisdom.
Explosive and impossible outcomes
Of all the challenges that face our business at the moment, the creep of orthodoxy, in all its guises, is one of the most toxic. Orthodoxy is our kryptonite. Because it stops us thinking, exploring, challenging, questioning. It stops us doing what we do best, which is to find a better way.
By definition, the explosive and sometime impossible outcomes that we search for and that are capable of creating a demonstrably different future for a brand, demand that we attempt things that have never been tried before. Strategically and creatively.
The AA’s "4th Emergency Service", a drumming gorilla, Lurpak’s love of food, The Superhumans, Direct Line’s gangland fixer. All these commercial triumphs were fuelled by the knowledge that what had gone before could not provide a blueprint for future success. As Bernbach said: "The memorable never emerged from a formula."
Indeed, a visceral loathing of orthodoxy ought to be the key qualification in getting a job in advertising or marketing. Those that take comfort from the accepted wisdom of others are ill-prepared to face the future challenges of our brands and businesses.
All too often, that accepted wisdom becomes a reason for marketers to accept defeat, to submit to the fate that a market has dealt out. A decade ago every drinks brand had given up on gin, the market was insistent that vodka was the white spirit of the future and every piece of lacklustre and unimaginative research reinforced this view.
Every new theory or approach, while revolutionary at its inception, stands to become the accepted wisdom, to become a lifeless cliché with time
And then, from nowhere, Sipsmith refused to accept gin’s allotted fate. By challenging the settled wisdom of the market it created a new future for the category and a lot of money for its founders. Every brand with enough imagination and creativity can challenge the market and write a new history for itself.
We all need to be vigilant in preventing the insidious creep of orthodoxy. For every new theory or approach, while revolutionary at its inception, stands to become the accepted wisdom, to become a lifeless cliché with time. Yesterday’s radical new idea becomes today’s best practice and tomorrow’s dogma, stifling any better way of solving our problems. Dogma is weaponised orthodoxy, for it not only blinds us to a better path but in its refusal to concede that there could be a better path it lays waste to new possibilities.
So, set yourself against orthodoxy of any kind. Challenge the accepted wisdom of your category or business or brand. And fight tooth and nail against dogma and those that peddle their theories as unquestionable truths. For our real value comes from our ability to imagine new futures for our brands and businesses and an appetite for uncharted ways to deliver that future.
Richard Huntington is the chairman and chief strategy officer of Saatchi & Saatchi