“Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” was Jacky Fisher’s motto.
Fisher was First Sea Lord – he joined the Royal Navy in 1854 and followed 200 years of British naval tradition.
During that time ships were made of wood, and guns had a range of 800 yards – they fired solid cannon balls that battered enemy ships into submission.
The ships that could “Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” usually won.
But by 1914, ships were made of steel, guns were accurate to more than 10 miles and fired armour-piercing shells.
But the Navy, and Fisher, were stuck in the past, still believing that whoever fired most shots, fastest would win.
In the biggest-ever sea battle, the British and German fleets met at Jutland in 1916.
The largest and most modern ships in the Navy were the battle cruisers.
Because of the belief in speed of firing, they left all their internal safety doors open so they could load the guns quicker.
From eight miles away, the German shells came through the decks and exploded – with no doors to stop them, the flash fires went straight to the magazines, which ignited.
Three of the biggest and most powerful ships in the Navy, each with 2,000 sailors aboard, blew up this way: HMS Invincible, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary.
That should have taught the Navy a lesson: “Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” was no longer the best tactic, but they didn’t learn.
Twenty-five years later, HMS Hood was also a battle cruiser, the pride of the Navy.
In 1941, the Hood was sent to attack the Bismark and, just like the ships at Jutland, the crew kept the safety doors open so they could load and fire more shells faster.
The Hood was hit by an armour-piercing shell from the Bismark, nine miles away.
Again, the explosion flashed to the magazine and the ship, with a crew of 2,000, blew up.
So, once again, “Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” was shown to have a basic weakness.
This was the thinking of a different century, a different set of circumstances.
“Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” is a seductive, macho mantra.
But it isn’t sufficient to bring the thinking of a previous time into a new era.
Yet “Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” is still the mantra for today’s media companies.
It worked well in the days before everyone had such concentrated targeting.
When a media budget was spread across a wider audience in a variety of different media.
But now that media budgets are concentrated tightly into a smaller area, the effect becomes the opposite of what was intended.
“Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” has become “Bore first, bore hard, keep on boring”.
The belief is similar to the Navy’s centuries-old belief that repetition always wins.
Over and over again, just bludgeon consumers into submission as if they were the enemy.
And how effective is this old-fashioned tactic?
Creatives have given up trying to be entertaining because it’s irrelevant – we need more ads and faster, consequently all the ads are boring.
Consumers ignore ads because they’re boring and repeated every 15 minutes, 24/7.
Given that the ads don’t work, agencies ignore consumers and work on building their reputations by targeting awards instead.
There are now 100 TV channels where there used to be four, advertising is digital where it was analogue, there is endless advertising on phones, even posters change every 15 seconds.
Do we think it might be time for some new thinking?
Is there a chance we could learn how a single, surprising, powerful, well-directed hit could do more than all the “Hit first. Hit hard. Keep on hitting” media thinking?
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