A view from Dave Trott: Propaganda is advertising
A view from Dave Trott

Propaganda is advertising

At school, we were all taught about the Armada.

In 1588, a massive fleet of Spanish ships tried to invade England.

They were to bring a huge army across from the Netherlands.

The Spanish fleet anchored overnight at Calais, but the English sent in fire-ships.

These were the equivalent of guided missiles: unmanned ships full of blazing pitch, brimstone, gunpowder and tar.

The wind and tide carried them straight into the middle of the anchored Spanish fleet.

The thing sailors on wooden ships feared more than anything was fire, they didn’t have time to raise their anchors, so they cut their anchor cables just to escape.

Because of the wind, they couldn’t go back down the English Channel, so they tried to escape around Scotland and Ireland, but then vicious storms blew up.

The Spanish couldn’t use their anchors to stop them getting blown onto the rocks, so a lot of their ships were wrecked, and then looted.

Five thousand men were killed by drowning, or slaughtered by the local Scots and Irish.

The remains of the fleet limped back to Spain, and that was the end of Spanish sea power.

At least, that’s what we were taught at school.

We were never taught what happened the very next year, 1589.

That’s when an English fleet tried the same thing in reverse.

The English tried to invade Spain with a fleet as big as the Spanish Armada had been.

The results were very similar to those the Spanish experienced.

Compare the two Armadas:

In 1588 the Spanish had 130 ships, in 1589 the English had 150 ships.

In 1588 the Spanish had 26,000 men, in 1589 the English had 23,000 men.

In 1588 the Spanish lost 11,000 dead, in 1589 the English lost 19,000 dead.

In 1588 the Spanish lost 63 ships, in 1589 the English lost 58 ships.

We were never taught about that at school, because it isn’t part of English history.

History is mainly propaganda, which is another word for advertising.

In propaganda, like advertising, you want your product to look good, so you only mention the good bits, not the bad bits.

The English have always been very good at propaganda.

The six main historical victories, every schoolchild knows, are: The Battle of Hastings, Agincourt, the Spanish Armada, Waterloo, Dunkirk and Alamein.

The thing is that two of these were actually defeats: The Battle of Hastings and Dunkirk.

But they aren’t taught as defeats.

This is what Bill Bernbach taught us about advertising.

How to turn a negative into a positive.

The other interesting thing is that the Spanish didn’t publicise the English defeat in 1589, as the English had publicised the Spanish defeat the previous year.

This is because, at that time, Spain ruled the world.

They were, in effect, market leader and only interested in growing the market: expanding into new territories across the Atlantic in the New World.

England was just a challenger brand, and Spain didn’t need to compete by trying to take share from them.

But because England was a smaller brand, their attention was on taking share from the bigger brand: Spain.

So England publicised the Spanish loss in 1588 as much as possible.

Thereby elevating England, in everyone’s mind, to a competitor with the market leader.

Which it soon was, and eventually became market leader itself.

Proving that propaganda (like advertising) can be more powerful than the truth.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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