Be lucky: How to stack the odds in your brand’s favour

18th October 2021

Andy Nairn, who has been named the UK’s number one brand strategist for the past three years, joined us for a fascinating and entertaining event to share insights from his new book, Go Luck Yourself: 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour.

In the book, Andy explains how the history of marketing and advertising is full of brands that stumbled across great ideas by accident or turned misfortunes into huge successes. During the event, the co-founder of advertising agency Lucky Generals highlighted some examples and outlined the lessons for creative companies. Dan Martin summarises his insights. 

Our attitude to luck

Opening his talk, Andy Nairn explained that we have a strange relationship with luck in the UK. “Other parts of the world find it completely natural to talk about luck and it’s a perfectly acceptable part of business conversation,” he said, “In the West, we’re a bit snooty about the whole thing. We think of it as a bit primitive and not to be trifled with.”

The negativity around luck was cemented in Victorian times, Andy said. The Industrial Revolution and the Protestant work ethic created the belief that if you were rich, you were successful because you had worked really hard for your money and God had smiled upon you, but if you were poor, it meant you hadn’t tried hard enough, you were work-shy and you should try harder.

That attitude around only hard work can generate good results still prevails, shown by the blurring of work and personal lives during the pandemic, Andy said.

“We can all think of situations where working an extra hour hasn’t given us a creative breakthrough and it can actually sometimes make it worse. Working hard means we’re stuck in the middle of it and what we really need is to get some fresh air and space around us.

“The book says yes, hard work is a good thing but you also need a bit of luck. The more you think about luck and the more you’re conscious of it, the more you can do to increase the chance of it coming your way. If you just deny that luck exists, it’s very hard for you to do that.”

There are 40 tips in Andy’s book that fit under the following four themes:

1. Appreciate what you’ve got

You might not realise it but you are highly likely to have assets in your business that you are not taking full advantage of. Andy used three non-business examples to illustrate his point:

Many businesses are guilty of not appreciating what they’ve got, Andy said. Brand history, heritage and provenance are often neglected by brands but talking about the history of your business, where it’s from and why it’s called what it is could be a valuable benefit to your marketing and other business activities.

Other examples include the data your business holds and the window display in your business’ offices.

And what about your logo? Could that be used in a different way?

Andy’s business, Lucky Generals, was asked to come up with an advertising campaign for Amazon that worked in multiple countries. The answer turned out to be a simple but very powerful one that was inspired by the company’s existing smile-shaped logo. As the Lucky Generals website says: “We hit upon the simple idea of heroing Amazon’s iconic packages and the epic journeys they make, to put a smile on the faces of people around the world.”

2. Look out for opportunities everywhere

To illustrate this point, Andy highlighted a 10-year study into the nature of luck by Professor Richard Wiseman. As part of it, he gave a group of people a newspaper and asked them to count the number of photographs. The unlucky people took around two minutes whereas the lucky people took just three seconds. The reason was that on the second page of the newspaper was the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

The study concluded that lucky people are good at constantly looking for opportunities beyond what they’re working on or the thing they’ve been told to do.

This can also be illustrated by the world of science, Andy said. Several important discoveries have been made accidentally and of the most famous is Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin after spotting some mould that had accidentally developed on a plate.

Diversity of teams is important here too. It’s easy to recruit people who are the same as you but that can mean you’ll just come up with the same ideas. However, if you take on people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, “it gives you a much better chance of striking it lucky” and spotting opportunities you might never have discovered.

3. Turn misfortune into good fortune

There are many examples of businesses converting a bad experience into a good one. One brilliant one is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an early character created by Walt Disney in 1927. It was popular but a contract dispute with his producer led to Disney quitting work on the cartoons. On the train home from a meeting, he came up with a new idea. It developed into Mickey Mouse, the most successful cartoon character of all time.

“We’ve all experienced our ideas being pulled, budgets being cut, timings being changed and clients changing their minds, but what we have to do is go again and come up with something that is even better, like Walt Disney did,” Andy said.

“The best companies don’t just deal with a bit of bad luck, it’s almost like they go running towards the bad luck. There’s a good energy that comes out of that.”

Steve Jobs was known for killing off his own products (the iMac killed the Macintosh and the iPhone killed the iPod) because, as Andy said, “his attitude was, if I don’t kill them off, someone else will.”

There are also some brands that take on taboos and talk about them directly. Bodyform and periods is an example.

Others take what could be seen as an annoying product flaw and turn it into a positive. Think of Guinness and “good things come to those who wait”.

When working with a big brand, Andy said he goes to the “darkest corners of social media” to find the negative conversation about that brand. “The jokes and nasty comments often have a truth and by acknowledging them, you can own the joke, turn it on its head and turn against those people.”

4. Practice being lucky

Andy’s last point is about deliberately building luck into your processes. He illustrated it with examples from music.

  • David Bowie used to cut up random text and mix up the pieces of paper to see if it created interesting combinations he could turn into songs. He used this technique for his album, Diamond Dogs.
  • Blues musician Tom Waits likes to turn on two radios at once to get inspiration.
  • Paul McCartney dreamt the tune for Yesterday and so he wouldn’t forget it, he quickly came up with some lyrics. They were: “Scrambled eggs, Oh you’ve got such lovely legs, Scrambled eggs. Oh, my baby, how I love your legs.”

What similar techniques can you build into your business processes so you constantly generate ideas?

Be lucky!

The next Bristol Creative Industries online keynote is with Anne Thistleton, marketing veteran and former strategy lead for The Coca-Cola Company in South Africa. She will share easy and practical lessons from mind science to make sure your audience really hears you. BCI members get £15 off tickets. Book your place here for the event on 21 October.


About Bristol Creative Industries

Bristol Creative Industries is the membership network that supports the region's creative sector to learn, grow and connect, driven by the common belief that we can achieve more collectively than alone. 

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