In 1891, Charles Wells ‘broke the bank’ at the Casino de Monte Carlo. In one roulette session, he won 23 single bets out of 30 consecutive spins. Whether nefarious practices were at play is still a matter for conjecture and debate, but Wells somehow knew which of the 37 numbers to sacrifice and which ones to commit to - the ones most likely to succeed.
Media can be a lot like gambling. With so many different options to choose from, it can be a huge gamble having to predict which platforms are going to get you results. But it’s not about making lots of little decisions where the chances of success are few and far between; it’s about making fewer, bigger decisions on meaningful outcomes and really understanding where you’re putting your money. In essence, it’s sacrificing and overcommitting.
In the world of business, Steve Jobs famously applied the rule of sacrifice when he returned to Apple in 1997. Faced with an array of products in development within a company in crisis, he promptly cancelled them all and told the business to focus on just making four great computers. Less became more and, as he said, “I’m as proud of what Apple has not done, as what it has”.
In the recent 20 years, media owners have consolidated in the mass markets, digitisation has become the new publication and media agencies have become hubs of mechanisation as a result. Data has become King, with software becoming his Queen. And machines have taken over the asylum.
Confusion has thrived and the promise of a ‘guide through the world of a myriad of media choices’ is made on a daily basis. Essentially, over this period, the sale of “Mirrors with Smoke” took off and the old adage about 50% evolved: advertisers are no longer just unsure about which 50% of their budget actually works, they now don’t know where 50% of it actually goes - and if they did, they would be petrified.
Clever old Freddie Nietzsche spotted this years ago when he opined in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “They muddy the water to make it seem deep”.
It’s almost as hard to predict as the outcome of a US presidential debate… almost.
In gambling, the pros know that it’s bad practise to place lots of tiny bets - that’s just blind guesswork. With a little bit of research and a well thought out strategy, you reduce the odds in your favour and can win big. The same process needs to be applied to media. To be effective, media should liberate and amplify ideas, not suffocate and dilute them by spreading them as a thin veneer across a multitude of outlets simply because they exist.
In effect, such a hedge strategy is an abdication of responsibility. The Oxford English Dictionary describes this as Option Paralysis – the inability to make a decision when presented with a wide range of choices.
We believe in making an impression rather than just buying impressions, and the only way you’re going to get a real return on your investment is through well-researched placements of your budget. It’s not enough to just buy the right idea, you must follow through with the right media placement in order for it to work. It matters what you say and it matters where you say it.
So, gather up your chips, and use their collective power on one meaningful placement. You’ll soon start reaping far greater rewards.
Simon Orpin is co-founder and CEO of Electric Glue. In a series of columns over the next few months, he will be exploring their core values of sacrificing and overcommitting - and why he believes this strategy can help every business in today’s advertising landscape.