What we’d learn if we went back to school…

Written by

Andrew Millar


August 18, 2008

Winter is upon us. The leaves have disappeared. Cold winds are blowing and it is raining almost every day.

That means only one thing…: it is ‘Work Experience’ time in Advertising…. (go figure…)

Now as a rule we don’t take work experience students unless a member of staff knows them. It is too hard to manage them in an already busy day. So those we do take on are left to their own devices to a certain degree. On occasions we’ve had some very good ones that have contributed and others who just want to coast for a week.

However, talking to them about their school life makes me want to instigate a new program.

‘School Experience’ – for us who have been working for a while to go back and be involved in a learning environment once again.

As communicators I think it would do us good to see what it’s like to learn again. It would result in us being better teachers. Because it seems to me that the closer you are to being a learner, the better you are as instructor. And I think that people who spend too much time in advertising forget how people learn and we end up by simply telling people what we want them to know. (People only remember 20% of what they are told.)

I have seen this so many times in the teachers we encounter with our own children. If a student doesn’t catch the idea first time, the teacher simply says it again, louder. The belief is that increased volume somehow makes it easier to understand.

And the advertising industry does the same thing. If sales don’t increase from that flight of television commercials, we say ‘let’s just run another bigger spend’. In the days when budgets were larger it often worked. We taught people about a products existence by ‘rote’ learning or constant repetition and with the weight of money, we got away with it.

Now we have to be smarter and use every technique we have at our disposal. Not selling techniques; like closing techniques, mnemonic devices, selling propositions etc.… but techniques that recognise that we all learn in different ways. None of use are exactly alike.

What we need to take on board is that our brains have not evolved to their present condition by taking in meaningless lists of data. In learning, we look for opportunities to make sense out of the things we come across in our daily lives. People who study the way we learn call it ‘looking for opportunities to ‘make meaning”. And when none are offered, we don’t learn anything. And we move on.

But every night when I watch commercial television I get the impression we need to go back to school to learn the truth that we can never bore people into buying an idea.

(3 out of 10…. See me after school.)