In Part I I covered the first two of five lessons that Titanic can teach about advertising and branding:
1. If you’re coming head on into disaster, don’t avoid it; aim directly for it.
2. Be careful what you say. The message could turn on you.
Now, the remaining three of the aforementioned five lessons that apply to our job as communicators and brand stewards:
3. Don’t forget the keys to the binocular locker.
When it was determined that the White Star line was going to put only its best officers on board the Titanic for its maiden voyage, the existing officers were either outright replaced or offered lower ranks to stay on board. One of these officers was David Blair, the 2nd officer. Rather than accepting a lower rank, he instead transferred to another ship. The day before Titanic sailed, he left, taking with him the keys to a locker in the quartermaster’s office.
Normally, this would not be a big deal, however in this particular case, that locker just happened to contain the lookout’s binoculars. This brings up an important lesson for each of us in the communications business today. The advertising industry is changing in radical new ways.
Those agencies who embrace that change today probably saw it coming and weren’t caught flatfooted when things shifted. That kind of farsighted vision is an important tool to keep in front of every decision we make. Though some changes headed our way are small, they can have big implications. Just as not having a key to a single locker helped sink the largest, most advanced ship of the time, small things can have a profound impact on our business.
On that dark ocean on an April night long ago, if the lookouts had had the ability to see what was coming ahead of time, they would have reacted much sooner and we wouldn’t be talking about the Titanic right now.
4. No matter how accomplished you think you are, you can still freeze to death like everyone else.
A first class ticket aboard Titanic in today’s dollars cost $69,600. Needless to say, the first class section was a who’s who of American and European society. Titanic’s maiden voyage, if recreated today, would have the equivalent of Steven Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell, Brad Pitt, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tiger Woods and 320 other heavy hitters on board. Yet for all their importance, influence or prestige, they drowned alongside 3rd class steerage passengers.
What is the lesson here? Our company philosophy has always been that the best idea in the room wins. Because I truly believe — like Chef Gusteau in the film Ratatouille says — “anyone can cook.” Great ideas are great ideas and it doesn’t matter if the high-paid CD or the greenest intern comes up with it. It is still a great idea. I have had the misfortune (as have many of you reading this) to work in shops that don’t have this basic respect for ideas. The danger is, when our own self-importance gets out of whack, self-justification can overrule our best instincts.
Everyone has value, especially in the new world where ideas must come quicker and in so many more areas than ever before. The days of a writer and an art director sitting in an office and creating the entire campaign are over. The new order of the day is for agencies to change their structure to embrace this idea. Some of the best ideas we’ve had this year came from a media planner and an account supervisor.
5. Don’t ignore the person who is trying to save you.
Just minutes before the Titanic struck the iceberg, they received a warning from an eastbound liner, the S.S. Californian. The Californian had been forced to stop to prevent striking a very large ice field, and they knew Titanic was within a few miles of their position — so they fired off a telegraph warning.
Unfortunately, Titanic was busy sending messages from its first class passengers to their relatives and friends in New York. So the wireless operator on Titanic rudely told the Californian operator to “shut up.” Which he did. He shut down his radio for the night and went to bed. The Californian was within 11 miles of Titanic and could have saved 1500 lives.
This is a perfect lesson for those of us in the advertising business who think we’ve got all the answers. We assert our expertise as we rush headlong into making yet another deadline. The problem is, we’re doing so much talking, that we may not bother to listen. I’m not going to quote David Ogilvy yet again for this conversation; you know what he said, but his assertion is right and wrong.
Consumers no longer have to sit and listen to what we are saying. They know a lot more than we think they do. And if we listen, we can learn a lot more than we think we know about them. Some of the best ads we’ve written were literally dictated straight from the people we want to influence. The internet is the best tool ever conceived for getting this information. So use it. Listen. Don’t talk. You might hear something you never expected.