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The Advertising Olympics


INFLUENCER: How a story from the first modern Olympics taught Ogilvy copywriter, Elizabeth Dewar, to view adland struggles in a positive light

The Advertising Olympics

The first modern Olympics were in 1896.

Robert Garrett was a 20 year old undergraduate at Harvard and talented at field athletics.

His coach put Garrett and a few of the other young talents together to represent the USA in Athens. 

Now, as we are talking about the first modern Olympics, it’s important to understand that it wasn’t the event we know today. Quite a few of the sports weren’t even played professionally at that time.

As one of the best available athletes, Garrett’s coach suggested he try the discus. He had the build for it and he could surely learn it quite quickly.

The only problem was that nobody had ever thrown a discus in the USA – it didn’t exist. There wasn’t a single discus for him to practice with in the country. But Garrett was keen to give it a go.

So he and the coach trotted down to the local museum, estimated the weight and dimensions from several Greek statues and drawings and briefed a local workman to make them a discus.

The result was a 14kg hunk of stone.

Garrett obviously struggled. He practiced for weeks onboard the ship to Athens but he could barely send the discus more than a few meters.

En route they realised they had the wrong start date and that the Greeks worked on the Julian calendar.

The event started two weeks earlier than they thought.

They rushed to Athens and arrived only just in time for the opening ceremony.

At the stadium Garrett got talking to a Greek athlete (the favourite to win the event) who showed him his discus.

He must have felt like a right bloody idiot. It weighed less than 2kg, had a tiny 20cm diameter, and was made of wood.

Garrett and the coach had definitely gotten it wrong a couple of times this trip.

As he stood in the stadium in front of 80,000 spectators he knew he had only three throws to get it right with this new discus.

He’d been training hard with the old 14kg version so this one was much easier to throw, but harder to aim with.

With zero style or swagger, Garrett heave-hoed and lobbed it. He was way off.

Unfazed he took a deep breath and hurled the second discus. Still off, but much better.

The crowd was laughing – even the Americans.

He had one throw left.

It was his last chance, so he adjusted his technique and threw that discus with everything he had.

He threw it so far, he won.

He defeated the Greeks at their own game, with (what he felt was) no experience.

Though Garrett felt frustrated and defeated at times, training with the wrong discus meant he was actually stronger and fitter than the others. All he had to do was focus and aim.

When I heard this story I really felt that we creatives (especially us young’uns) are fighting that same battle. Its all uphill and the odds are, unfortunately, against us. Vague briefs, short deadlines, all in a world where there are a million and one new ways to approach a problem, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

So whenever we do get that occasional crappy brief, pitch feedback at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, or even just have a bad review, I’m going to try to remind myself that it’s all training.

Training that makes us better at our jobs, faster, and more capable to take on the next challenge thrown at us.

Garrett was quoted after the event saying, "I wanted as much action as I could, since it meant fun."

I think that’s why nearly all of us get into advertising, for fun.

So in those moments where it’s not so fun, we have to remember we’re training for something bigger and better that’s coming our way. Something that definitely will be fun, and all we’ll have to do is focus and aim.

Elizabeth Dewar is a copywriter at Geometry Global Dubai

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Ogilvy UK, Fri, 06 May 2016 14:25:33 GMT