TALENT BORROWS, GENIUS STEALS

Thomas Cornwall
Corkscrew Thinking
Published in
4 min readNov 24, 2015

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This is a story about how Oasis “stole” their way to fame, competitive positioning and how to become the biggest in the world.

Noel Gallagher “stole” many of his best ideas.

The opening riff of Cigarettes & Alcohol was “stolen” from T-Rex’s Get It On.

The Don’t Look Back In Anger lyrics, “So I’ll start a revolution from my bed, Cause you said the brains I had went to my head” were “stolen” from John Lennon.

“Stealing” made him, and Oasis, immensely famous.

Another man they “stole” from was Bill Bernbach — the Father of Advertising’s Creative Revolution in the 1960's.

Bill was one of the Mad Men that made Madison Avenue, Madison Avenue.

He was behind VW’s Think Small campaign, which positioned the weird little German car as a friendly, radical alternative to the Detroit ensemble.

Outrageous considering the campaign ran just 15 years after World War 2.

Bernbach was also behind a campaign for a tiny packaged Jewish rye bread made by Levy’s.

The Directors came to Bill with a problem: the product wasn’t selling and they couldn’t understand why.

They knew their customer: New York City Jews.

They knew what media they read: The Jewish Chronicle.

And they knew what to say: That Levy’s was the superior packaged rye bread.

Why wasn’t it working?

To Bill it was obvious.

Jewish people bought rye bread fresh from their local bakery.

So, why would they buy packaged bread?

To succeed they had to persuade the rest of the market that Levy’s was for them in the places that they were.

They had to become famous.

So did Oasis.

You see, Creation Records had just signed Oasis.

And Definitely Maybe was being recorded.

But the label was £2 million in debt.

They didn’t have a big budget to play with.

They had just £60,000.

So Tim Abbot, Creation’s marketing man, had to think.

Rather than sit in the office.

Or talk to the London music journalists.

He got on the train to the Midlands.

That’s where his friends lived.

Real music fans.

They loved Oasis.

But they didn’t buy singles. Or read the NME. Or Q.

And that got Abbot thinking.

The NME and Q were like The Jewish Chronicle.

They were only read by the musos.

The people that start liking a band when they’re new.

The people that stop liking a band when they make it big.

In business they’re the Innovators — the 2.5% of the market that most people go after.

But Oasis didn’t want to be just another guitar band.

They wanted to be the biggest band in the world.

So Abbot didn’t do the normal thing and put the ads there.

He put the ads in football magazines. And match programmes. And dance music publications.

Mixmag gave the album a 5-star review. And they didn’t review guitar music.

Football fans began singing the songs on the terraces. Viral marketing at it’s purest.

So Oasis didn’t become just another guitar band.

They became the band of the people.

They became the biggest band in the world.

Definitely Maybe became the fastest selling debut album of all time, selling over 2.1 million copies.

And Creation Records paid off their debts.

Steve Jobs “stole” from Picasso when he said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.

Picasso “stole” from T.S. Eliot who phrased it as, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”.

Eliot “stole” that from Oscar Wilde who gave us the line, “Talent borrows, genius steals”.

Who knows where Wilde “stole” it from…

Jobs is known for innovation but he didn’t make products for the innovators. That’s why Apple are the largest company in the world.

Picasso became an elite artist but he didn’t make art for the elites. That’s why his painting’s have sold for more than any artist in the world.

Oasis received countless industry awards but they didn’t make music for the critics. That’s why they were the most successful British band of the nineties.

If you just want to be loved by a few then talk to those people in the places they are and in the jargon only they’ll understand.

But if you want to become the biggest in the world then talk to everyone else, everywhere, and in the words everybody understands.

Is that “bad targeting”? Or is that “fame”?

James Webb Young famously said, “an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements”.

What’s less known is he “stole” that from Vilfredo Pareto.

Thomas Cornwall is the Director of Behave, London’s creative behavioural practice.

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