The greatest ad ever and how to be a leader in marketing


As the snow fell on Friday and I had abandoned my wife’s Fiat 500 at the bottom of our off-road drive my thoughts quickly turned to one of my hero’s Sir Ernest Shackleton or “The Boss” as he was affectionately known.  His story is well known, but if you don’t know it there are plenty of books and films to watch.  You can even wear the gear. However I wanted to focus on two slightly lesser known facts.  Firstly, he is connected with one of the finest pieces of marketing I’ve ever seen.

Strong, factual headline, and clear product deliverables and benefits if you’re up for it. I love the honesty of this ad and the clear call to action. I know times have changed, I’m not blind to it, but I relish the simplicity and focus of the ad.

Of course, it was the catalyst for those amazing men joining an expedition that was struck with huge amounts of bad luck and inevitably led to their place in history… or did it?

Secondly, he showed great leadership of the expedition, but he was far from the best at everything. He surrounded himself with the right talent to get the job done. For instance, Frank Arthur Worsley is arguably the hero in our story, because it was he that navigated the entire team to their eventual rescue. Working under Shackleton as the Captain, he was able to use simple navigation tools and the stars to navigate 1800 miles of some of the worst terrain in the world. Charlie Green kept people fed (with penguins), Alexander Macklin kept them well, and Harry “Chippy” McNish made boats and shelter. Surrounding yourself with brilliant practitioners is nothing new, but in marketing teams things aren’t quite so clean cut. At Flock we often witness teams that are thrust together, people that are consolidated, leaders who are swapped by people who don’t understand marketing, organisational design that is often rooted in the past, and consumers that are putting more and more demands on CMOs to deliver better, more relevant, more targeted work. On top of that, the people in their teams might have varying levels of capability. One of our clients is currently shifting their marketing approach towards customer experience/journey marketing. Not only do the team need to change their mindset, but so do their agency.

So, if you are a leader in marketing and want to oil the engines, here are five learnings we’ve picked up along the way… and try to do them in this order.

  1. Clarity – Just like Shackleton’s ad, be clear on what your own vision is, what you are trying to do, who you want, what you want from them, and what the rewards will be.  Your leadership stance is the catalyst for change.
  2. Understand – Take a snap shot of your people’s capabilities.  Using a tool like our Capability tool or conducting a simple, confidential survey will help you understand who can do what, the gaps in skills, and where you need to focus your efforts.
  3. Align – Get people in a room and don’t leave until you have agreed what the vision and plan is for the team. This could be a workshop off site or regular working session. Make sure you have manageable roadmap with clear accountability for each task even if it stretches their skillset.
  4. Externalise – Tell someone what you are doing, and what your team’s commitment is.  It makes sense to do this is internally but bring your agency in and tell them your plans.  This can be informal, but if it’s major you may need to ask them to respond to your new ways of working.  We are currently managing an incumbent agency brief on how they will change in line with the new ways of working by the client.
  5. Measure – Put measures in place to see how you are doing.  These can be simple internal KPI’s, or at the other end of the spectrum, think about where you might bake in deliverables by your agency.  There are many tools to help you, but a 360 agency appraisal formalises it, not only for your team, but also the agency.

I’m not suggesting it is easy, but just as Shackleton did on the ice, he broke the problems down into manageable challenges. Sail safely, get off a trapped boat before it sank, survive on the ice flow for 10 months, walk to an island carrying boats when the food runs out, leave half the crew behind to seek rescue, sale for 16 days in arctic seas, get help, go back, save his men. At each step he delivered against his promise, building up trust and delivering.

Whilst you can’t compare the conditions of the South Pole to the bosom of Soho, or how dated this ad now feels I do think there is lots to learn from ‘The Boss’ even today.

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