How to deflate a bombastic strategic oracle

—Some of the Qatar World Cup creative reminded Craig Redmond of an early-career stunt that could have been fireable, but ended in hysterics—

Let me begin by insisting that strategic planning has been the most important and defining development in the recent history of our industry, and that those brainiacs who lead and continue to shape the discipline have been amongst my most invaluable conceptual partners and some of my very dearest friends.

But like everything in life, there’s always that one kooky, anomalistic tale, such as this…

We had only been at our new agency a couple of months when my partner and I, along with the entire creative department, were summoned by the new strategic planner to the main boardroom for an en masse ensemble briefing on the shop’s biggest client.

There are a couple of more colourful expressions that could be used to describe such a gathering, but we shall refrain from using them in deference to decorum. Regardless, the briefing was to promote their car account’s new line of sport utility vehicles.

“We want to own the SUV category,” rang out from the head of the table.

Our planner had recently joined us from academia, using a lot of big words we didn’t know, often to diss our industry. Advertising seemed to be a bit like slumming it for this scholar, akin to a prep school student dating a kid from the wrong side of the tracks just to piss off the parents. That’s why we affectionately referred to our new visionary with the honorary title, “The Oracle.”

After an exaggerated dramatic pause, the sermon from the boardroom mount continued: “And we will own that SUV category by galvanizing the lineup with this one single-minded, unifying proposition,” they continued. “Our SUVs will catalyze your senses!”

After a few seconds, the stunned, deafening silence in the room was finally broken by me, responding as only I knew how—a barely audible giggle, and a failed attempt to cover it up with a simulated cough.

The clown sleeping in the back row of the classroom in my skull was awoken by an idea on how to take the erudite elitist down a few intellectual notches.

After the meeting, I sat down with my art director partner and we concocted a diabolically delinquent plan that would either get us fired or turn us into urban legends at our new agency home.

Two weeks later, we were all paraded back into that boardroom to present our concepts to the executive creative directors and our soothsaying strategist. I begged for us to go first, and the powers agreed, impressed by our newbie enthusiasm.

That’s when we revealed a series of mock billboards that featured 80-word long, Jack Kerouac-ian run-on sentence headlines, devoid of punctuation and painstakingly kerned to fused perfection by my sheepishly grinning partner. An eternity of stillness passed. And then…

“What the fuck has this got to do with the positioning that ‘Our SUVs catalyze your senses’?” the Oracle finally shrilled with a punctuating, pounding fist on the shaking boardroom table. To which I replied, ever so innocently: “Catalyze your senses?” I echoed “We thought you said, CAUTERIZE YOUR SENTENCES.”

The room erupted with laughter. Even the ECDs couldn’t help but pee themselves. But the planner was not amused, and didn’t even give a passing glance at the real concepts we presented once the hysterical din had dampened.

Our fate was sealed.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the Oracle returned to the academic ivory tower, leaving our philistine philandering ad world far behind. In the years since, I had completely forgotten about that funny little prank on the poor, unsuspecting sod.

Until now.

You see, as I was deking my way through all the work for the FIFA World Cup, I was suddenly confronted by two utterly independent ad campaigns, united not by their footy bandwagon ambitions, but their eerie similarity to that childish lark of ours many years before.

It was as if that Academic-turned-Ad-Planner-turned-Academic had conjured up this coincidental confluence with some sort of divining intervention.

First, it was these long copy billboards featuring countless words of inspiration from Apple TV’s character Ted Lasso for America’s soccer team players. The headlines aren’t as “sentence cauterized” as our faux SUV billboards, but they are running in each player’s hometown, ensuring locals actually read them.


And then, right after seeing those memory-piquing billboards, I saw this funny spot for Denmark’s TV2.  It explains the origins of the popular ‘Four-Four-Four-Nil’ Danish football chant, which apparently didn’t hail from their team’s qualifying for the tournament, but dates back to a middle-ages miracle invoked by, who else? An ORACLE!!!

TV2 Denmark: 4-0

Happenstance? I think not. And if, in fact, that self-anointed sage of strategy from years gone by did summon this convergence of my cheeky prankster past and this World Cup creative present, I owe you an irredeemable debt of gratitude, my friend.

Because it gave yours truly a most timely and much-needed memorable giggle.

Craig Redmond is creative director at TANK Worldwide in Toronto.

Craig Redmond