Carry On Learning

This week I was very flattered to be asked to address the annual conference of the Portuguese advertiser association, APAN. These comments reflect some of the remarks I made there.

If there is one thing about getting old it is the realisation that you’re never going to know everything.

This may come as much of a shock to many in the digital advertising business who seem to believe, as I once did that they know, and have the answer to, everything.

I cherish the memory of once going in to see a (by his own modest admission) a very senior figure in the digital world at one of Havas’ media agencies. I feel OK about mentioning them by name as I understand the individual has long gone.

Anyway, before I started on whatever it was we had come to talk about this guy leant over the table at me and my colleague (a man with multiple start-ups and exits to his name) and said ‘Let me tell you everything you need to know about how advertising works.’

What followed was largely garbage, built around his belief, no doubt forged in the white heat of his vast two years’ experience in the business that the answer to every advertising problem was paid search.

My presentation to APAN combined evidence from 1895, 1947, 1984 and 2015. Some was a bit weird (I’m not sure if I would have included the original ‘Punch’ cartoon in which the notion of the curate’s egg was first aired if I was to do it again), other bits (like Bill Bernbach’s amazing letter about why he wanted creative mould breakers over what he referred to as advertising scientists in his agency) seemed highly appropriate to today’s world.

My message was simple – ignore the fads and stick to the facts. Use your experience, your brand knowledge, and your gut feel and you won’t go far wrong.

This is not to advise advertisers to stay rooted in the past. The world of media and communications has of course changed out of all recognition. We all know that; we should always be experimenting, trialling, evaluating and learning.

The answer is always a blend. TV advertising, via whatever device, can still work wonders (read the IPA’s effectiveness awards papers, or the Field and Binet book ‘The Long and Short of It’ if you doubt me).

Online advertising is brilliant at many things – especially in combination with media forms (like TV) that can add the emotional to the rational, and can extend the message far and wide.

But, like us all it’s not brilliant at everything, always.

It’s not about Madmen versus Mathmen, or algorithms versus creative thoughts.

It’s about both and all of everything.

Carry on learning; you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find and where it will take you.


  1. Live like you’ll die tomorrow and learn like you’ll live for ever.

  2. Dear Brian,
    It was a pleasure to have you at APAN’s Conference. I belive your message was very clear and, as you, I believe the advatage of beeing in this industry for many years, is to be conscience that there are no black and white in tne media and advertising industry, it is full of hues in between. Thaks For beeing in Lisbon.

  3. Hi Brian,
    Your talk made me twenty years younger (and only God knows how badly in need I was).Highly interesting and intellectualy rewarding. It certainly re-energized me to bear the everyday crap the likes of Havas keep throwing at us. Thanks for the opportunity of inspiring us all.

  4. Keeping the record straight:
    I agree my previous comment may be taken as out of line.
    However I believe that most of the people who listened to Brian’s talk in Lisbon and read his post duly understand its meaning.

  5. Hi Brian,
    Excelent presentation and nice to see you again after so many years. Absolutly agree with your point of view. The complementary use of media it’s better than the approach or speech “Online vs offline”. Your experience and many years on the industry give you the support to talk about that.

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