Opinion

Learn the law of diminishing marginal returns

In any profession it’s customary for old hands to tease new recruits.

To wind them up a bit.

In the RAF, in World War 2, they used to tell new recruits to watch out for the Oomegoolies bird.

dave-trott-image-3The recruits would ask what made this particular bird different.

The old hands said they’d know it by its distinctive cry.

The bird had no legs or feet.

So when it came in to land it would scream “Oo me goolies….Oo me goolies.”

If the recruits hadn’t caught on by then, they asked where they could see one of these birds.

They were told they probably couldn’t see it, because of the bird’s strange ritual.

“The bird flies round and round in ever decreasing circles, until it eventually disappears up its own arse.”

At which point all the old hands fell about laughing and the new recruit cottoned-on that he’d been had.

Personally I don’t find that story so far fetched.

In fact I’ve experienced that very phenomenon many times.

Rory Sutherland said “A good idea needs wings, but it also needs a landing gear.”

In other words, it’s no good having a great strategy that only works in marketing meetings.

If it doesn’t land in the public’s consciousness it’s pointless.

We know £18.3 billion is spent every year on all forms of advertising and marketing.

We know just 4% is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, and a massive 89% isn’t noticed or remembered.

That’s roughly £17 billion of advertising that doesn’t have any landing gear.

And the reason most advertising goes unnoticed is the second part of the bird’s behaviour.

Meetings where everyone goes round and round, trying to solve every minor detail of every real or imagined problem, until they disappear up their own rear end.

Or, as it’s known in economics: The Law Of Diminishing Marginal Returns.

Where we let the trivial take precedence over the essential.

Because the most crucial problem must always be: 89% of advertising isn’t noticed or remembered.

Or, as Bill Bernbach said “If no one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”

So all of those box-ticking exercises aren’t just a waste of time.

They’re actually harmful.

They get in the way.

They contribute to failure.

Which is why, as David Ogilvy said “Strategy is sacrifice.”

The more information we load into the communication, the more we confuse the communication.

The more we confuse the communication the more we reduce the clarity.

The more we reduce the clarity, the more we become part of the wallpaper.

The more we become part of the wallpaper the more we disappear.

And we go exactly the same route as that RAF bird.

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog

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