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Are You Good at Free Throws?

Are You Good at Free Throws?I was never really into sports.

But I’ve realised by living in Dubai, sports makes for good conversation.

You tend to meet a lot of people here. And when you’re out of content, and the weather is basically the same all year round, ‘did you catch last night’s game?’ serves as a good filler.

So on my journey to upskilling my sports lingo, I fell down the YouTube rabbit hole of basketball (as one does). From teams, to managers, to formations, to players – and I’m not talking about King James’ Paleo diet plan, I’m talking about Wilt Chamberlain at the start of his career.

I ended up learning a lot from Wilt Chamberlain’s story.

In a game that celebrates bigger and taller, his large size didn’t always serve to his advantage.

Which got me thinking about our industry, and how sometimes the incumbents of advertising tend to fall within the fallacy of capability – the bigger they are the more they feel they should do.

Now, back to Wilt, one of the best basketball players of all time.

A giant of a man, that couldn’t be stopped as he speared through for his famous layup.

The guy holds unbeatable records till this day, years after his passing, like scoring 100 points in a single game. That’s a big deal in basketball stats.

But as great as he was, he had one setback.

Free throws were his weakness.

“Wilt misses again” had been said by almost every commentator at the time.

It’s weird. Most players look forward to getting fouled.

To take that one shot, unopposed and unguarded. But not Wilt.

Experts tried to analyze his throwing in hopes of finding a solution, but that didn’t really work.

Until one day, his coach asked him to practice shooting free throws in front of him.

Almost every other shot was missed.

His coach then asked him to walk back to half court, and to try again.

Out of 25 throws he got 20. 

For someone to score that many shots from 14m away;

you’d assume 6m should be a piece of cake.

At that moment, the answer became clear.

Wilt just had too much power in him.

He was too big, too strong.

And he felt the need to always use this unmatched power brought about by his size.

The solution however, was quite simple.

When you’re at the free throw line, don’t aim for the hoop, aim for 1 meter before it.

It worked.

Sometimes we have every capacity to win and succeed at what we do.

Historically, we’ve gotten it right – the big score.

But at certain times we just need to dose down our efforts and focus on the simplest way to get the points.

Big agencies fall into this trap.

The bigger they are, the bigger their proposals should be.

We tend to see a client pitch as an opportunity to demonstrate the huge power of our agency – building a grandiose response that we believe is proportional to our size.

And forgetting that the actual size of the response is meant to be dictated by the need of the client’s business. Simple.

At the end of the day,

when clients are looking to see if we can get that free throw in, agencies should stop trying to show how far they can throw the ball.

Every so often the brief is simple – score the free throw.

You don’t need to overpower it and treat it as a 3 pointer, because you’ll most likely miss.

Sometimes, a win in advertising, just like in basketball, often comes down to a free throw.

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