A view from Dave Trott: Unchanging man
A view from Dave Trott

Unchanging man

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man. With his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

I always loved Bill Bernbach’s quote about unchanging man.

And how communicators need to learn who we’re talking to, so I shared it on Twitter.

Immediately someone replied that the quote was no longer relevant, technology was changing everything so fast that view was old-fashioned.

We now have so many different ways to get to people: mobile phones, tablets, smart watches, games, digital posters, 100 channels of TV, Bernbach’s quote was out of date.

Well, I wonder if every time there’s a new invention, a new piece of technology, if it changes man’s behaviour.

Cars, for instance: before cars, people used to walk to places, or get a train, or a horse-drawn bus or taxi, did cars change that?

Try walking down any busy high street at rush hour and let me know, if you’re not pushed out of the way by a shopper you’ll be knocked over by a jogger.

How about trains: the tube alone carries five million passengers a day, London taxis make 330,000 journeys a day, and Uber has 3.5 million customers in the UK.

So cars didn’t stop people doing what they were doing before they replaced the horse.

How about phones: before phones, people used to write to each other, did the phone change that, have people stopped written communication?

Last year, 306.4 BILLION emails were sent each day.

Presumably they weren’t just blank pages, presumably they had some words on them, presumably someone had to type the words.

So written communication hasn’t disappeared.

The fact is that the person who made that reply had a trivial, shallow understanding of what Bernbach was saying.

What he was saying is that of course the form may change, but people who can’t see any deeper than that won’t notice the basic motivation hasn’t changed.

People may change from horses to cars, but the motivation for travel remains.

They may change from letters to phones, but the motivation for communication remains.

Because, although the technology changes, basic human beings don’t.

Being able to see this allows us to operate at a more fundamental, a more powerful level.

Media may change, but the motivation to use it won’t because the people using it don’t.

Understanding this allows us to “Act, don’t react”, as Buddha said.

Jeff Bezos, the richest tech entrepreneur on the planet, gets it.

He said: “People are always asking me what’s going to change in the next 10 years.

“But a much more powerful question is: ‘What’s not going to change?’

“The answer to that question allows you to work on those things with the confidence that all the energy you put in today will still be paying dividends in the future.

“You don’t have to do a lot of research, it’s an easy question to answer.

“For Amazon, our customers want fast shipping, low prices, and a big selection.

“It’s impossible to imagine someone saying: ‘I love Amazon but I wish you delivered a bit more slowly.’

“When you identify those big ideas that are stable in time, they’re usually customer needs.”

So that’s advice from the man who virtually invented good advertising, and the man who virtually invented online shopping.

When Bernbach and Bezos are both saying the same thing, it’s probably worth listening to.

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