A view from Dave Trott: Make them do the work for you
A view from Dave Trott

Make them do the work for you

Steven Bradbury was a speed skater.

He represented Australia at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Winter sports are not big in Australia, it’s a hot country, so they didn’t expect much. 

In the 1,000-metre final, Bradbury was against the fastest skaters on the planet.

The favourite was then world champion Apolo Anton Ohno (US), then Ahn Hyun-soo (South Korea), then Li Jiajun (China) and then Mathieu Turcotte (Canada).

Bradbury was the slowest and oldest person racing, so he stood no chance of winning.

But because he knew that, he had an advantage.

His coach, Ann Zhang, knew that a bronze medal would be a great result for Australia.

But she also knew that for each of the other racers, only a gold medal would do.

They were convinced they could win and would do anything to be first.

So, Zhang told Bradbury to hang back behind the leaders, let them fight it out.

All it needed was for these four hyped-up athletes to fight with one another, and for one or two to get knocked down or disqualified.

If Bradbury were simply one of the three that finished, he’d get bronze.

He didn’t have to beat them, he just had to let them beat each other.

And that’s what he did: for the entire race, he was 15 metres behind the leaders.

Eventually it became obvious he must finish last.

But 50 metres from the finish line the South Korean fell and took the American, the Canadian and the Chinese with him.

With all four skaters lying on the ice, Bradbury just went past them and crossed the finish line before they could get up.

And Bradbury became the first athlete from the entire southern half of the planet to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Not by trying to win, but by letting everyone else lose.

That is a truly creative strategy.

As Napoleon said: "Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake."

Years ago, Avis ran its famous campaign: "We’re only no 2. We try harder."

It worked so well it began to harm morale at Hertz, the market leader.

Hertz was forced to respond with a campaign saying: "For years, Avis has been telling you Hertz is
no 1. Now we’re going to tell you why."

It worked for Hertz employees, but for the public it cemented Avis as an equal competitor to Hertz.

Avis had forced Hertz to do its advertising for it.

Years later, Pepsi ran "The Pepsi challenge" saying seven out of 10 cola-drinkers preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coke.

Coke was so spooked it announced it was changing its formula.

On the day it did, all Pepsi employees worldwide were given a day off.

Because Coke was doing Pepsi’s advertising for it.  

A few years back, the RAC ran a campaign about how it could get to a broken-down car faster than anyone else.

Rupert Howell had the AA as a client at that time.

He told me it was all he could do to stop the AA client from running a campaign replying to the RAC claim and disproving it.

Rupert managed to stop the AA from doing the RAC’s advertising for it.

Because Rupert understood what the RAC was trying to do.

We shouldn’t be frightened of provoking a response, we should be trying to provoke a response, especially from someone bigger.

If we can use our budget to provoke our opponent into spending their money answering us back, it’s a very effective way of positioning ourselves in the public’s mind.

By making them spend their money doing our advertising for us.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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