Alcatraz, marketing and autogenous creativity

Stefano Savio
4 min readMay 29, 2018

How can you tell how creative a communication agency actually is? Lock it up. And throw the keys away. It will escape only if it knows how to capture the attention of your customers. Maybe.

Alcatraz (from Wikipedia)

Alcatraz (1) is definitely the world’s most famous prison. Located in the San Francisco Bay (California, United States), it operated from 1934 to 1963. All in all, it was a short-lived existence — 29 years — , considering the reputation (which it still enjoys up to date) of an unbreakable fortress it earned itself over time and one that continued to grow even after closure.

Considering that this prison held particularly dangerous people who had previously tried to escape from other prisons, there were relatively few escape attempts in its history. “Just” 26.

Officially, no one ever managed to escape given that none among those who tried were ever found free. However, three people made history as the only ones to manage to escape. And their story inspired several movies — including the most famous “Escape from Alcatraz” starring Clint Eastwood.

Without going too deep into details (2), in 1962 two brothers Clarence and John Anglin and their fellow inmate Frank Morris broke out from the jail eluding surveillance and disappearing.

The three managed to escape using two spoons, raincoats and some hair collected from the floor: they used the spoons to cut through the wall of their cells, placed dummies (with haired dummy heads) on their beds and used the raincoats to make a raft once in the sea.

However, this is the most notable thing. In its 29 years of history, each day, Alcatraz hosted between 200 and 300 inmates for a total of about 1600 prisoners (3) throughout its history, with sentences ranging between 8 years and life imprisonment. And this prison was known to be among the toughest in its day.

Basically, Alcatraz was full of people “strongly willing” to get away. However, this was the only escape recorded in history as truly successful. However, if we look at how things went, surprisingly it was not that there was a case of attempted escape every day.

A spoon, a raincoat and some hair. These are objects every inmate had every day. Why did they succeed where others failed? Were they smarter than others? Did they have highly advanced technology? Did they have escape manuals? None of the above.

They simply did the only reasonable thing under these circumstances: they spent their entire time answering just one question: “Can the things around me help me to get away from here?”.

They definitely struck off at least a million answers deemed unworkable: can I make a key out of soap? Can I steal the pistol from one of the guards? Can I apply oil all over my body to slip through the bars?

No matter how senseless they sound, none of these answers were discarded without being duly weighed. As a matter of fact, collecting hair from the floor and using it to their advantage at the right time was one of the keys to successful escape.

Now, let us move this perspective and scenario far from the place where these events occurred.

The true game changer in a collaboration between a company and a communication agency does not lie in the latter being particularly developed or revolutionary or technologically advanced (let’s be clear, none of these hurt in any case).

However, the secret to turning things around, from one agency to the other, and between one company and the other, actually lies in that in some of these environments there are people truly striving to achieve the goals they set out to achieve. And in that to them, there are no limits to drawing inspiration from all aspects of life — whether at work or elsewhere. To them, it is only natural to reason in the lines of: “Can what I see around me help to boost my customer’s sales numbers? How can this… coffee brewer help to increase the sales of a company management software? Can I use this Sherlock Holmes image to increase the sales of graduated compression stockings? How can I use rock art to increase contacts from abroad for a company manufacturing construction scaffoldings? (4)”

If your answer is always “Yes”, then we are just a step away from putting together the escape of the century.

We could call it “selective attention (5)”, “latent focus”, “autogenous creativity”…

You won’t find it online: it is found among people. For an advertisement agency, this is the utmost quality towards achieving results, regardless of the field of application, experience and technology.

But above all, this is one quality a company cannot afford to lose once it finds it.



2. The internet is full of more or less accurate stories, including the History Channel documentary “Escape from Alcatraz Prison — The True Story” (

3. — the full inmates register available on

4. Or else: “How can I apply escape from Alcatraz to emphasise on the importance of creativity in marketing?”