A view from Dave Trott: Create a problem to solve
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: Create a problem to solve

Jean-Claude was a young man living in a rural French town.

He started a business putting up posters along the highways.

But in 1964 the French government banned posters on highways.

Which should have meant the end of his business.

But, in fact, it meant the opposite.

Because Jean-Claude realised the way the bureaucratic mind works.

If there’s a problem, find a quick and easy solution.

Posters were unsightly, so banning them was an easy solution.

If Jean-Claude wanted to sell poster sites, he just needed to turn them from a problem into a solution.

So he reversed the way he marketed his posters.

In fact, he didn’t market them as posters at all – he marketed them as a way to pay for civic amenities.

He started with the way people waited for buses in the country.

They had to stand around in the wind and the rain.

He offered the mayor of Lyon the chance to erect nice, clean bus shelters.

They’d be free because they’d be paid for by posters on the bus shelters.

The mayor grabbed it – he knew bus shelters would make him popular.

And bus shelters began appearing along the routes where posters were banned.

Because now they weren’t posters.

They were bus shelters that happened to contain posters.

Soon the inhabitants of nearby towns wanted to know why they couldn’t have nice bus shelters too.

So the mayors of Grenoble, Angers and Poitiers asked Jean-Claude to build his bus shelters there as well.

And soon the mayors of towns all over France wanted nice, free bus shelters.

And Jean-Claude saw there were many other places where posters could be seen to solve a problem.

For instance, in Paris there were 1,200 pissoirs.

Open-air, smelly, unhygienic urinals.

Jean-Claude commissioned Norman Foster to design the first self-cleaning cubicles.

These were so hygienic, even Givenchy and Chanel paid to advertise on them.

Now they are in cities all over the world.

And, of course, car pollution is a major problem in all big cities.

So in 2003, in Vienna, Jean-Claude’s company introduced racks of sponsored bicycles.

And in just six weeks, 10,000 people rode 40,000 miles.

Now 47,000 sponsored bicycles are available in 69 cities, saving many tons of pollution.

Jean-Claude’s company is now the biggest outdoor advertising company in the world.

It’s named after Jean-Claude: it is, of course, JCDecaux.

It has more than half-a-billion posters in 56 countries with revenues of €3.2bn a year.

It shows what happens when you don’t confront a problem head-on: you get upstream and change the problem.

Don’t allow advertising to be seen as the problem.

Find a problem, solve the problem, and have advertising pay for it.

People who didn’t want advertising will welcome it.

When Jean-Claude died last month, the French prime minister described him as "one of the jewels of the French economy".

All because he knew how to treat a problem creatively.

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