There was an interesting article in the paper, after Manchester United were beaten 4-0 by Liverpool.
It was the end of Ralf Rangnick’s time as manager, which meant he had nothing to lose by speaking freely (instead of the usual way football managers and politicians and advertising people normally speak, by trying to appear as if they’re saying something without actually saying anything).
The reporter wrote this:
“Paul Pogba departed with an injury and that may be the last anyone sees of him in a United jersey before he departs on a free transfer.
“If anyone is an emblem of these lost years at United, it is the France superstar who everyone thought would be the missing piece of the jigsaw without stopping to think what picture they were trying to put together.
“Spend time with Ralf Rangnick and he is likely to use the car industry as an analogy for how so many football clubs find themselves on the scrapheap.
“He will pick a brand, maybe Mercedes, and attach certain words that encapsulate that make. For example, innovation, reliability and sporty.
“His point is that whatever the latest model, the core principles remain the same, whereas in football the identity at some clubs flip-flops with every managerial change.
“The result is the United of today. A horrible mish-mash that pretends to be like a Porsche, with all those expensive signings, but has the engine of a weekend runaround.
“Liverpool, in contrast, are like an Aston Martin – slick, powerful, the car everyone wants.
“They spin a different brand of football – quick, aggressive, incisive – the kind that makes the supporters swell with pride.
“It is not easy playing this way. It takes bravery, humility, unity, a vision, clever recruitment and a world-class manager, as Liverpool identified in Jurgen Klopp.
“Before he went to Liverpool, United tried to get Klopp with the line that taking over at United would be akin to managing in an ‘adult version of Disneyland’ – but that was the exact opposite of what Klopp wanted to hear.”
The interesting part was the fact that the United board thought because they had a team of superstars it was an easier job, and therefore more attractive.
But that wasn’t what Klopp wanted – he wanted clarity, simplicity and commitment.
That’s something we don’t find much in football, politics or advertising.
Most people don’t talk with the clarity Rangnick did, they don’t admit there are problems, even when everyone can see them.
Consequently, they have no identity – all the agencies, like the products they sell, are perceived as the same as everyone else.
Just the way Rangnick compares United pretending to be a Porsche but with the engine of a weekend runaround.
A Porsche is a superb sports car, but it isn’t the car to take shopping at the supermarket.
But that’s how we do ads, and that’s how agencies talk about ourselves.
We pretend we can do everything, so we end up doing nothing very well.
Like Rangnick says, the identity flip-flops with every change in fashion, until nobody knows what they are doing or why.
No-one has a set of core principals, like Mercedes or Aston Martin or Liverpool, they just copy the latest formula.
We are frightened someone else will claim a formula that we haven’t also claimed.
We are scared stiff of being left behind.
We must claim that we also have that formula, whatever it currently is.
Which is why we should remember what Bill Bernbach said: “Principles endure, formulas do not.”
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three