Under the Influence


It's our annual episode dedicated to great stories from our Under The Influence research books that didn’t make our regular season. We'll tell the story of why Tim Hortons always chooses brown bricks for their stores and how Levi's accidentally sold underwear to teenagers. Hope you'll join us.

It's our annual episode dedicated to great stories from our Under The Influence research books that didn't make our regular season.

This Week's Must-Listen Moment:


At the 1971 Academy Awards, actress Goldie Hawn read the list of nominees for Best Actor. When she tore open the envelope, she announced that George C. Scott was the winner.

Actor George C. Scott married Canadian actress Colleen Dewhurst in 1960. (Image Source: wikimedia.org)

But George C. Scott wasn't there to accept his award.

As a matter of fact, he declined it, making him the first actor in history to reject an Academy Award.

Scott wasn't a fan of the Oscars, and felt it was demeaning to actors.

The movie Patton, however, would win seven Academy Awards that night, including Best Picture and Best Director.

George C. Scott spent 4 years in the marines, which would influence on his portrayal of Patton many years later. (Image Source: dailymotion.com)

The screenplay was written by Edmund North and Francis Ford Coppola. The two had worked on the screenplay separately, yet their collaboration won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Coppola, of course, would go on to direct The Godfather, where Marlon Brando would win the Best Actor Oscar, becoming the second actor in history to reject the award.

An Academy Award was an offer Marlon Brando could refuse. (Image Source: messynessychic)

But George C. Scott's portrayal of General Patton was a powerful performance.

My favourite scene in the film is where Patton is watching his troops through binoculars as they crush rival Field Marshall Rommel's forces in an epic tank battle:

Patton has correctly guessed Rommel's moves. And the reason is interesting:

Rommel had indeed written a book on wartime tactics called Infantry Attacks, in 1937.

Patton could read Rommel's mind. (Image Source: amazon)

Patton, an obsessive military tactician, had no doubt read it, and had absorbed Rommel's thinking and patterns.

The insights the book provided, combined with Patton's aggressive strategies, gave the general a supreme advantage on the field - prompting Rommel to say Patton had executed an "astonishing achievement in mobile warfare."

The knowledge contained within the pages of books offers many advantages in both business and in life.

Sometimes the insights are small and sometimes they're big. Many times a nugget found in the most unlikely book has made all the tumblers click into place for me on a given subject.

I read a lot of books to research Under The Influence, all of it a joy. The only downside is I don't have enough room to include all the great stories during the course of a season.

So this episode is dedicated to the stories that didn't make it into our regular episodes.

Each one fascinating, each containing a perceptive lesson that you can apply to your career or your life, or both.

So sit back, relax, and let's peruse some interesting bookmarks…

The Under The Influence library is extensive, and we've pulled out some of the most interesting stories for today's episode. (Image Source: metrixconsulting.au)

It's pretty safe to say I'm a voracious reader.

Just ask my wife who has to walk around an obstacle course of books at our house.

My reading tastes are eclectic. From biographies and business volumes, to books on history, music, arts and sciences.

One of the things I love about books is the attention to detail. A story isn't just a sound bite, but rather a richly constructed examination of an event or a concept, not bound by space restrictions, allowing the author room to explore and analyze.

And it's always surprising what you can learn.

I read the book Always Fresh by Tim Hortons co-founder, Ron Joyce.

When Ron Joyce and Tim Horton bought their first donut shop, the current owners used a Ouiji board to determine how many donuts they made every day. True story. (Image Source: amazon.ca)

He tells the story of how he built the giant coffee and donut chain. And along the way, he explains the reason why all Tim Hortons stores are made from the same brown bricks.

The familiar brown bricks were inspired by Tim Horton's Willowdale home. (Image Source: timhortons)

Do you know why?

Because when they were building their first stores, Tim Horton himself insisted on using the same bricks he had on the home he built in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale.

I think that worked out pretty well. Tim Hortons locations are definitely distinctive.

The lesson there: Go with what you know.

In a book entitled What Women Want by Paco Underhill, the author notes that Best Buy realized tech-challenged men were struggling to set up the electronic equipment they were buying. So the store created a mobile team called The Geek Squad that could be dispatched to help.

The marketing world's most prized customer - women. (Image Source: matchconsultingblog)

They knew that if the equipment worked, chances are the customer would buy more.

The success of the Geek Squad was in the name. Men have a lot of pride when it comes to their electronic prowess, but a team called the Geek Squad didn't offend their inadequacies. They just shrugged it off saying that "only geeks know this stuff."

The Geek Squad's name was chosen to calm men's inadequacy issues. (Image Source: nbc26.tv)

Pride remained intact – Best Buy profited.

The lesson: A name is powerful marketing.

In a biography of Mick Jagger I recently read, entitled simply, Mick, the author tells the story of a teenaged Jagger beginning to sing with his first band.

(Image Source: simonandschuster)

He sounded a bit posh for a blues band.

Mick was also a bit of an athlete back then, and played basketball.

An accident while playing basketball would alter a young Mick Jagger's life forever. (Image Source: dailymail)

On the court one day, he experienced something that altered the course of his life – and perhaps even the course of musical history.

During a particularly heated game, Jagger collided with an opposing team member and bit off the tip of his own tongue. With blood spilling down the front of his jersey, Mick accidentally swallowed the severed tip.

He didn't talk for an entire week. His bandmates wondered if his singing days were over.

But when Mick finally did open his mouth again to sing, his bandmates were stunned. Suddenly, most of his upper-class accent was gone – Mick now sounded grittier, tougher and more bluesy.

The accident changed his voice completely. Biting off the tip of his tongue was the best thing that ever happened to Mick Jagger.

A partial tongue has reaped many benefits for Mr. Jagger. (Image Source: dailymail)

Maybe that explains why a big tongue is the Rolling Stones' logo.

The famous Rolling Stone logo - inspired by Mick's tongue. (Image Source: www.psfk.com)

The lesson: There's an opportunity hiding inside every problem.

In the book Things A Little Bird Told Me, by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, he explains how a famous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark came about.

Harrison Ford had to shoot a long sword-fighting scene one day. But he was suffering from the runs that morning, and wanted to go home early.

So instead of engaging in the sword fight, Ford suggested he just pull out his gun and shoot the bad guy.

Best scene in the movie.

Lesson: There's an opportunity hiding inside every problem – part two.

I read an amusing book entitled What Else You Got? by Canadian adman Pat Bryan. The title comes from a familiar moment for most ad people, when you've worked for weeks on a campaign, given up nights and weekends, only to present the idea to the client who yawns and says, "What else you got?"

Pat Bryan's memoir is an amusing account of his time as a Canadian advertising Mad Man. (Image Source: amazon.com)

Bryan tells many funny stories about his 40 years in the business, including one about shooting McDonald's commercials with mascot Ronald McDonald.

Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald. (Image Source: huffingtonpost.com)

A television shoot takes forever. There is nothing glamorous about shooting TV commercials - it's a lot of hurry up and wait.

Therefore, the actor who was under contract to McDonald's to play Ronald McDonald would shoot a scene, then have a couple of hours to kill until his next shot. So he would go into his dressing room and nap.

But whenever he napped, the makeup people would strap both his hands to his sides. See, Ronald McDonald's makeup took two hours to apply, and the actor had a habit of rubbing his face in his sleep – ruining the makeup.

Ronald McDonald has to sit in the make-up chair for two hours. (Image Source: agirlwhoisageek)

I don't know about you, but the image of Ronald McDonald napping with his big yellow hands strapped to his sides - is just plain funny.

Watch those hands, mister. (Image Source: agirlwhoisageek)

One of the most exciting aspects of the advertising business is when agencies are pitching for a new account. It's a lot of late nights and lost weekends, and the stakes are high.

The moment of truth always comes down to the final presentation. An agency usually gets about 45 minutes to make their case in front of the prospective client. Everything has to go just right.

But many times, it just doesn't.

In an amusing book entitled, The Real Madmen, Andrew Cracknell tells a story of an ad agency pitching a big airline account back in the 1960s.

Cracknell's book tells the tales of the true Mad Men in the Golden Age of advertising. (Image Source: amazon)

When the agency was about to begin its pitch in the airline's boardroom, they announced they wanted to begin by showing the airline a reel of their best commercials.

This was before the days of VCRs and DVDs, so the reel was on film and a projector was set up. As the lights dimmed, the signal was given, the projector was turned on - and to the agency's horror - the film began playing backwards.

Agency jumps up, lights are turned back on, throats are nervously cleared, apologies are made, and the two film reels are quickly flipped. Then the lights are turned off again, the signal is given, and the projector is turned back on.

This time, the film starts running upside down.

Nervous laughs and coughs. Lights go on again, film is reloaded, lights go off, signal is given, projector is turned on, and the film just slowly spooled onto the floor.

With that final humiliation, the ad agency just politely got up, thanked the airline for their time, packed their projector, and left. After all, what was the point?

As the agency folks were getting into their car in the parking lot, there was a tap on the window.

It was the airline client, who told them they had won the account.

When the surprised Creative Director asked why after the disaster in the boardroom, the client said, "Because it's obvious you're not slick salesmen."

You never know what will win you an account.

In the same book, Cracknell tells another story about an agency named Ally & Gargano, who was pitching the Volvo account.

Volvo was pretty new to North America at the time.

Valvo, Volvo. Tomato, Tamato. (Image Source: YouTube)

Throughout the agency's entire pitch, they misspell the word Volvo as Valvo.

Must have been a pretty good presentation, because they still managed to win the account.

In a book humorously entitled, Pickett, Plunkett and Puckett, adman Larry Postaer tells a story about pitching the Luxor Hotel account in Las Vegas.

Postaer's book is a hilarious and insightful look at advertising from a Creative Director's perch. (Image Source: amazon)

He decided to put together a video of snippets from other hotel commercials to show the Luxor clients just how predictable most casino advertising was.

The video showed cliché scenes of swimming pools, blackjack tables and slot machine winners – all set to Elvis Presley's Viva Las Vegas.

One of Postaer's biggest pitch mistakes came while trying to woo a Las Vegas casino. (Image Source: getintravel)

Halfway through the video, Postaer notices something. All the toes are tapping under the boardroom table.

In that moment, Postaer knew he had blown it.

The Luxor clients were loving the video. They did not see clichés, they saw their exciting lives flashing before their eyes.

They saw greatness.

Which is not what they saw when Postaer hauled out his universally rejected campaign idea.

Lesson: Know your audience.

In a Fred Goldberg's book entitled, The Insanity of Advertising, he tells the story of wanting to get his ad agency on a list to pitch a courier account called Airborne Express.

The title says it all. (Image Source: amazon)

So to impress the courier company, Goldberg decides to send them a package of their best ads.

A few hours later, Airborne Express sent Goldberg a note saying the ads were incredible, but that the agency would never get a chance to work on the account.

When Goldberg asked why, the courier company said it was because the agency had sent the package… Federal Express.

You just gotta laugh.

A good rule of thumb while pitching a client is to actually use the client's product. Just sayin'. (Image Source: planespotters.net)

One of my favourites stories is found in a book entitled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, by Charles Duhigg.

An insightful exporation of how we form habits in life and in business. (Image Source: amazon)

Back in 1996, Proctor & Gamble created a spray that made bad smells disappear.

It was colourless, ordourless, and could eliminate smells on any surface. The offending odour was drawn into the spray's molecules, and when the mist dried, the scent was gone.

It was an incredible breakthrough. P&G stood to make billions. All they had to do was to figure out how to market it.

They called the new spray Febreze, and decided to give free samples away in a few cites, observe how people used it, and base a marketing campaign on the results.

Febreze rescued a Park Ranger's love life. (Image Source: nocookie.net)

One of the people they talked to was a female park ranger in Phoenix. Her job was to trap animals that wandered out of the desert, like coyotes, raccoons and skunks.

Lots of skunks.

Those skunks almost always sprayed her, and the resulting smell was crippling her love life. Everything she owned smelled like skunk – her clothes, her car, her curtains, her sofa and even her bed.

She tried every soap and shampoo she could find – nothing worked.

And all the men she dated eventually broke up with her within a few weeks.

But she had started using Febreze. When the P&G researchers asked her about the results, she began to cry.

She said, "I want to thank you. This spray has changed my life." The skunk smell had finally disappeared. She felt normal again.

So the P&G marketing department took that insight and created TV ads about pet smells. The sales of Febreze started off small – and got smaller.

The product was failing.

P&G decided to do more research. One day, they were visiting a woman who owned nine cats. They could actually smell them before they went into the house.

When they walked into the living room where the cats lived, the smell was so overpowering, one of the researchers gagged.

What smell? (Image Source: unbounce.com)

"What do you do about the cat smell?" they asked the woman.

She said, "What cat smell?"

That same scenario played out in dozens of other smelly homes.

Suddenly, P&G realized their marketing problem.

The people who needed Febreze the most didn't know they needed it. People become desensitized to bad smells when they live with them every day.

That's why Febreze wasn't selling.

So P&G made a momentous decision: It decided to add a scent to Febreze. Now the spray that was developed to destroy odours was transformed into a spray that scented the air.

As P&G realized, the skunk woman had sent them in the wrong direction.

Nobody craves scentlessness. On the other hand, millions crave a nice smell after a cleaning routine. Now Febreze not only got rid of odours but also left behind a pleasant one.

Febreze is now a billion dollar money maker. (Image Source: Jadelouisedesigns.com)

With that change in marketing focus, Febreze sales doubled in two months. Within a year, sales were $230 million. Today Febreze and its spin-offs, account for over $1 billion of revenue per year.

The lesson here is interesting. Even with all P&G's enormous resources, it still came down to connecting the dots with intuition.

Proving how unscientific successful marketing can often be.

One of the most famous Creative Directors in the advertising business today is John Hegarty.

Maybe the most respected Creative Director in the ad biz today. (Image Source: tynesidecinema)

Based in the UK, he wrote an insightful book in 2011 entitled, Hegarty On Advertising.

The logo (and guiding principle) for Hegarty's ad agency is a black sheep. (Image Source: slideshare.net)

Back in 1984, his client Levi's decided to launch their 501 button-fly jean in Europe.

The button-fly jean didn't fly in Europe. (Image Source: levis)

There were four obstacles that stood in the way of a successful launch.

First, Levi's had lost its cool factor. They were thought of as "Dad" jeans, worn by frumpy middle-aged men.

Second, Levi's wanted to sell their 501 jeans for £20 per pair - which in 1984 - was unheard of. Nobody believed that shoppers would pay that much for a pair of mass-produced jeans. Including Selfridges, a large British retailer that actually declined to stock 501s at that price. A major blow to Levi's.

Top British retailers refused to stock Levis 501 button-fly jeans. (Image Source: mydenimblog)

Third, Levi's had researched the concept of button-fly jeans among its 15-19 year-old target audience. The results were completely negative. Kids had no interest in a button-fly at all.

Lastly, the idea had to work across Europe, transcending languages and borders.

Even with all those obstacles, Hegarty was convinced creativity could solve the problem.

His team came up with an unusual television commercial. It begins outside an American Laundromat, circa late 1950:


The commercial became a phenomenon.

Kids lined up at cinemas just to see it. Sales of Levi's 501 button-fly jeans shot up 800%.

As a matter of fact, Levi's had to pull the ad off the air after just a few weeks because they couldn't keep up with the demand.

Selfridges called, begging to stock the 501s at £20 per pair.

Two other amusing anecdotes about this famous commercial:

First, the song I Heard It Through The Grapevine re-entered the charts and went to number one in the UK. Higher than when originally released.

Second, when the commercial was about to be shot, the UK censorship authority objected to the scene where the young guy takes his pants off. They didn't object to the fact he was taking his jeans off, they objected to the fact he was wearing tighty whities underneath.

They deemed it indecent.

The commercial would only be approved if the actor wore boxer shorts.

Now – in 1984 - boxer shorts were strictly worn by grandfathers.

But it was either that or no commercial. So Hegarty relented and shot the commercial with boxer shorts.

Then – guess what happened - the sales of boxer shorts exploded. Along with 501s, they became the must-have item for 15-19 year olds.

It was an interesting lesson in marketing.

It showed that research only states what is happening, not what is possible.

Results showed that kids had no interest in button-fly jeans. But creativity is a powerful business tool. Once they saw the commercial, their opinions changed completely.

And never underestimate the power of a universal theme.

A cool guy, some fun sexual tension, and the power of storytelling.

Teenagers all over Europe – in many different languages – ran out to buy Levi's 501 button-fly jeans.

That Levis commercial sold jeans, boxer shorts and a hit song. (Image Source: sojeans.com)

They heard about them through the grapevine.

I love books because they contain stories.

Stories break down complicated concepts, and let you absorb the insights in profound ways.

As an author once said – storytelling creates faith, and faith moves mountains.

One of the most powerful lessons from today's stories is that - there's always an opportunity hiding inside an obstacle. I have found that to be true over and over again in my career. Don't fret about an obstacle – dismantle it and find the opportunity waiting to be discovered.

Like the makers of Febreze did when they realized nobody aspired to scentlessness, and how Best Buy figured out a way to help men set up their electronics without insulting their manhood, and how Harrison Ford figured out a way to… run home quickly.

The other big lesson today is the value of intuition.

Levi's were seen as uncool. Research said kids wouldn't be interested in a button-fly. Retailers didn't want to stock them.

But Hegarty's intuition said it could be done. And the power of that commercial sold not only jeans, but boxer shorts and a hit song.

Faith can indeed move mountains.

So, the next time you think something can't be done, just do what Mick Jagger did and bite your tongue...

…when you're under the influence.