How Entrepreneurs Get Ahead: Part 2


In the last post, I posed a question: How can you understand and predict the future success of specific innovative ideas?

Well, as any business leaders and entrepreneur knows, getting people on-side with new ideas can be tough. This is because ground-breaking ideas often go against the grain – they are led by subjective intuition or personal insight.

Unfortunately, personal insight is not the best guide for making consistently good decisions in business. Sometimes they work out, but new ways of doing things are inherently risky and only cold hard cash pays the bills from month to month.

To the financially minded then, even fantastic, bold and brave ideas can seem like unnecessary risks and even threats to their livelihood. This is especially true for those trained in older industries and economic disciplines: we are moving into the wholly digital world where many of their repetitive functions are being transferred to computer software.

What is understandable in today’s world is often not comprehensible in tomorrows. This makes investment a tense place run by young chancers, hungry sharks and old money men. Luckily this is changing, because of a man named Juan.

The best advert in the world

In 2007, Cadbury’s needed to do something drastic to recapture their audience. Mid-way through 2006, a number of their lines were found to contain salmonella bacteria originating from a leaking pipe at the company’s factory in Marlbrook. The incident was widely reported in the media and had a number of knock-on effects, including a significant decline in sales. To rectify this, they Approached Fallon London – an advertising agency – with a simple brief: “Get the love back”. What the agency came back with was… unexpected.

Fallon had a bold new idea. They wanted to provide the most enjoyable experience without directly referencing chocolate or demonstrating the experience of the product. What they developed was a ground-breaking concept that drew on subjective ideas such as ‘joy and pleasure’ to create an emotional connection with the audience. The Cadbury’s Senior Management identified this new, unproven approach (which did not include their product within the advert) as a risk, and asked Fallon to go back to the drawing board.

Luckily, Fallon’s Argentine-born creative director Juan Cabral refused to back down. He insisted that the video would become something to be talked about for its own sake, a piece of art that would have widespread appeal and change the company’s fates. After many months of discussions, Cadbury’s agreed. The rest – as they say – is history.

The advert, simply titled ‘Gorilla’ was released on Friday 31 August 2007, during the finale of the eighth series of Big Brother, watched by around 14% of British viewers. Within the first week, the video had been watched 500,000 times on Youtube, and within two months it had been viewed over 6 million times worldwide. Cadbury’s was back on the map and the discrepancy was forgotten. Soon after, they created an in-house production company ‘A Glass and a Half Full Productions’ – dedicated to bring advertising experiences to the viewer, not just a brand message.

“Chocolate is about joy and pleasure. For years Cadbury had told us that it was generous, through the glass and a half strap line. We thought, don’t tell us how generous you are; show us. Don’t tell us about joy; show us”  – Laurence Green, Planning Director, Fallon

The beginning of something new

Even today, the sixty second advert is cited among lists of the ‘greatest of all time’, even though there is only around ten seconds of actual drum playing. It directly influenced sales of Cadbury products extremely successfully, growing profit across all of their lines by around 7% (a 9% increase on the previous year), all of which was attributed to that advert alone.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, today there are a swarm of advertising agencies who live by an ethos of emotional connection today, a strategy adopted by companies that include Apple, McDonalds and Coca-Cola. They are the indirect result of Juan Cabral’s dogmatic belief in something relatively unproven: that when it comes to making videos go ‘viral’, emotional entertainment is stronger than a purely logical approach.

To many people, Juan’s intuitive ‘passion’ and ‘drive’ to create this bold new style would be a mystery. This is because they simply do not understand what motivates or inspires people beyond money and success. It’s the reason so many employers fail to recognise the potential of their employee’s, or why employee’s fail to understand the significant skills they can bring to a business. These factors are, however, integral to the success of new ideas, which require careful attention, enduring belief in the power of emotional connection and a strong focus on quality of experience.

The worst advert in the world

At this point, you are probably thinking: “Ah-ha! So to succeed I just create something bold and emotional, and believe in its potential.” Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Six months after ‘Gorilla’, Fallon (through ‘A Glass and a Half Full Productions’) tried to duplicate the success of their first advertisement. The second advert, ‘Airport Trucks’, played on the exact same themes and followed a similar pattern: both showed unlikely events, both had iconic pop music tracks and both were highly publicised.

The advert was an unmitigated flop, with nowhere near the immediate or viral success of their first venture. Confused, Fallon contacted a leading expert in the area of subconscious and cognitive neuroscience, a senior lecturer in Advertising Theory at the University of Bath, to try and find out where they went wrong.

“Using what we have learned so far, it is possible to assemble a very plausible explanation for why one ad worked and the other did not. One must admit that not many of us cherish the desire to drive an airport truck down a runway racing with a bunch of other airport trucks; and even if we did, we can’t see the actual drivers in the ad, so there are no facial expressions we can use to trigger mirror neurons and create feelings of excitement we can relate to. Effectively, these are little more than animated vehicles, and it isn’t easy to feel any sort of affinity with a cartoon character truck unless you are a toddler.

On the other hand, most of us have a little part inside us that longs to act like a wild animal, and quite a few of us have another little part that longs to play the drums like Phil Collins did in In the air… . By putting these two cherished ambitions together, the Gorilla ad effectively encapsulates two of our most basic visceral desires for fulfilment. And the gorilla’s facial expressions are so well directed that our mirror neurons can use these to trigger the same sense of anticipation and excitement that he is experiencing. One might expect that any company perceptive enough to realise all this is one worthy of respect and liking

– Seducing the Subconscious: The Psychology of Emotional Influence in Advertising

What they inadvertently stumbled upon, were rules to visual advertising success in this format. Using these principles, they could accurately predict how to create success and avoid failure, by modelling future advertising on new guidelines that ensured a good outcome. He created the first testable source of marketing driven by nothing but one idea. People want emotional connection, and they don’t care where they get it.

But I don’t care about Chocolate!

I use this example because it carries an important message for anyone considering innovation and the future. There are no guarantees of success. However. Typically what comes from innovation is understanding, which (more often than not) is far more long lasting and important factor to success in the long run. Proof of this has been shown in Cadbury’s recent advertising success, with the much talked about ‘eyebrows’ advert.

Drawing these two ideas together then, one can form a rough outline for how ‘good’ innovation emerges, and how it is protected from a world that has not yet followed suit.

Firstly, careful attention, enduring optimism and a focus on quality have a direct relationship with the finished product’s success. Any business that compromises in these areas may be sacrificing the true power of the idea in breaking new ground.

Secondly, understanding why things happen is integral to future success. Once you recognise the principles which led to success, they can be used to dramatically reduce associated risks and maximise potential benefits.

In other words: good innovation requires strong belief, a great quality product or service, and constructive feedback from the right places (whether that is customers or experts).

Attempting to answer the question

And so, the end is near, and now I face the final question…

How can you understand and predict the future success of specific innovative ideas?

The answer is remarkably simple. You start at 100% chance, then work backwards.

In a world where you have total belief in a great quality product or service, and the ability to deliver it at a price that releases high commercial benefit (either monetary or social currency), the chance of becoming successful is almost 100%. Now, if you can share this idea effectively across different groups and communicate the potential in relevant ways, and once you have acted on feedback to improve how the product is made or the service delivered, innovation should always succeed.

Of course, this is not true – many innovations fail for the same reason that the second advertisement was a flop: the difference between perception and reality. Nobody has total confidence in an unproven idea, a product is rarely perfect from the outset, and good feedback is hard to come by.

Maybe you don’t have the money to buy top quality materials. Perhaps you don’t have the skills to outline key benefits that investors will appreciate. It is possible that your feedback is too limited in scope, and that you are missing something obviously problematic.

In most cases, however, the problem lies in the least understood of all business disciplines. Marketing. Next time, we look at how marketing directly impacts the success of innovation by altering perception.


  • Considering innovation, both businesses and individuals need room to test new ideas uninhibited. Constricting this urge is safer in the short-term, but holds less far fewer advantages in the long run.
  • Often, belief in a project’s potential and a strong focus on quality from start to finish is a good recipe for success. A business with a high quality product can develop a strong brand easily, it is much harder for a strong brand to develop a good business.
  • Truly inspiring innovation often requires a drive that goes beyond money and immediate success. It requires a firm vision and a deep desire to auteur a vision.
  • The best outcome for innovation is not always success: sometimes the lessons learnt from failure are far more important to ensuring future success.
  • Recognising where good feedback comes from can effectively lead innovation in the right direction.

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