Turn On Your Red Light

How great creative minds work differently
(image source)

In the Autumn of 1977, The Police were a barely known band with only a few tunes to their name. Trudging around Europe, picking up the odd gig here and there, the group drove to Paris in the guitarist’s knackered Citroën to play support for The Damned.

With next to no money, they shared a room in a dilapidated hotel in the city’s red-light district. On arriving for rehearsal, they discovered The Damned hadn’t even left England – no one had bothered to tell them the concert was cancelled.

As the frustrated bandmates went their separate ways for the night, Sting decided to walk the streets around the hotel and discovered several prostitutes congregated in an alleyway. Somewhat fascinated, he started to imagine what life would be like being the boyfriend of one of the women.

On his return to the hotel, he noticed a half-torn poster in the foyer for the play Cyrano De Bergerac, the story of the soldier with the rather large nose who falls for his beautiful cousin, Roxanne.

Back in England, the band recorded Sting’s new song and soon Roxanne started receiving repeat plays on American radio stations. After only a few weeks, The Police were signed to one of the world’s biggest record labels and never looked back.

In advertising, it’s natural to switch your brain off once you close your laptop. But the best never do. They still consume and experience life like everyone else but there’s a little part of their brain that never clocks off. Subconsciously able to look at the world and see how something can be used, tweaked or nicked for the benefit of a brand.

It’s exactly how tactical ads work. And year after year, you see these ideas hoover up column inches and awards in equal measure.

Advertising may be a 9 to 5 job but the best think 24-7.

Roxanne, performed in ’79.


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