What Gandhi can teach us about advertising

Gandhi wasn’t an idle peacenik, he was a perceptive communicator who would have been right at home in today’s ad industry, says adland blogger Tom Tom


Most people picture Gandhi as some gentle, fragile man who people followed because he was just so peaceful.

But the truth is he wasn’t just some sappy dude who sat around all day smiling. He was a sharp lawyer who had a mind for smart communication. He was non-violent, but not passive. He devastated an empire by taking residence in people’s minds. He knew how the media worked and how to get attention. He spread his message by causing peaceful civil disobedience that got talked about in international press and word of mouth. That’s the power of a story worth discussing.

Gandhi had a mind for sharp communication

His famous salt march was done explicitly to get noticed. He made a small batch of salt, which was illegal for him to do under British rule. The salt he made wasn’t worth much, but the press couldn’t help but write about his defiance.

In less noble ways perhaps, advertising does the same thing for brands. It finds the inner story of the product and causes some civil disobedience (guerilla marketing, breakthrough thinking, press-worthy work), for the betterment of the brands. Calling out the tyranny of competitors and marking their own righteous deeds. Anything that gets people talking, the news writing or the schoolyard buzzing.

3M spent next to nothing installing a bus shelter with thousands of dollars locked under security glass, free to anyone who could get it. By inviting the public to attack the shelter they received incredible attention.

Most good advertisers know this. The advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky even writes ideas in the form of what the press release might say.

Others need to be reminded. If you don’t create a stir with your adverts, you’re not really doing much. And if clients aren’t prepared to be shocked on occasion, they’re setting themselves up to be overthrown by some small witty brand in modest cloth.

Tom Tom is the blogging name of a Californian copywriter. Read more of his work at Advertising for Peanuts

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