A view from Dave Trott: There is no right answer
A view from Dave Trott

There is no right answer

When I was young, like most young men I subscribed to Rousseau’s view of nature: “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.”

Peace and love, man – the world would be wonderful without so many restrictions.

As I grew older, I saw and experienced many different things and my views changed.

I began to subscribe more to Hobbes’ view of nature: “In the natural state, life is nasty, cruel, brutish and short.”

I now saw the world as not idyllic, but a place where the strong will prey on the weak unless we organise to protect them.

So that’s two philosophers with two opposing views of the same thing: nature.

One says that authority is there to oppress mankind.

The other says authority is there to protect mankind.

How come, at different stages of my life, I thought both were right?

Well, the answer is exactly that – I was at different stages of life.

One answer is right for a younger man, one answer is right for an older man.

Churchill put it this way: “Anyone under 30 who is not a liberal has no soul. Anyone over 30 who is not a conservative has no brain.”

Whether or not you agree with him, it’s true that different answers are right at different times in different situations.

That’s why I find it frustrating, people in advertising saying one formula is always right at all times for every product in every situation.

As if there was only ever one answer.

But how can a product that’s about to launch need the same thinking as a product that’s been category leader for decades?

One will need to grow the entire market, one will need to grow their SHARE of the market.

Coke needs a bigger cake, Red Bull just needs a bigger SHARE of the cake.

The message in the advertising will be completely different.

How is retaining existing customers the same thinking as gaining new customers?

Sky needs a bigger cake, Netflix needs a bigger SHARE of the cake.

The message in the advertising will be completely different.

How can a brand message be the same as a product-benefit message?

When Apple made its “Think different” ad, it had nothing to sell but the brand – later it ran 70 commercials about product differences: “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC.”

The message in both campaigns was completely different.

But in each situation, both were right because the circumstances were different.

I found it frustrating when people asked me whose advertising was right, McDonald’s or Burger King?

They’re both hamburgers so there can only be one answer, right?

Wrong.

One is far and away market leader, so they need people to buy more burgers.

The other is a challenger brand, they need to take share from the market leader.

Which is exactly why both need different thinking, not the same.

Because there is no right answer, there is only a right answer for the circumstances.

Believing there’s only one answer that is always right stops us thinking.

We are convinced of the answer before we even ask the question.

Then we don’t have thinking, we have dogma.

Rudyard Kipling could have been writing about briefing:

“I keep six honest serving men,

“They taught me all I knew;

“Their names are What and Why and When,

“And How and Where and Who.”

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

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