For the benefit of the aspiring adman, I have taken the liberty to translate key passages from The Art of War by Sun Tzu – the ancient Chinese military general whose legendary tome presents stratagems and philosophy for managing conflicts and winning battles. It is cited as a masterpiece. My translation, on the other hand, isn’t.
On laying plans
All war is based on deception.
Translation: Never tell your boss that your client meeting was an excuse for a lunch date.
On waging war
In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
Translation: Never run long copy when short copy will do. Also, don’t drink too much.
On attack by stratagem
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting.
Translation: If courage and integrity have a way of evading you, use wile and guile with style.
On tactical dispositions
The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters.
Translation: Avoid ever having to meet your creative director alone. Especially in long corridors.
Energy is likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.
Translation: Never bend agency policy to such a degree that you get caught. Or fired.
On weak points and strong
So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
Translation: Get the interns to do all the work. Or your spouse. Then take the credit – and bask.
If you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
Translation: Take clients out often for lunch. Don’t ask them to pay. Don’t ask them to hire you.
On tactical variations
In hemmed-in situations, resort to stratagem. In desperate positions, you must fight.
Translation: When out of ideas, Google. When totally out of ideas, Gooooooooooooogle.
On armies on the march
All armies prefer high ground to low, and sunny places to dark.
Translation: Base your agency out of a professional office in a highrise. Relocate to Karachi.
Ground that can be freely traversed by both sides is called accessible.
Translation: Good people at good companies select good agencies impartially. Sort of.
On the nine situations
If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.
Translation: If a competitive agency offers you a better job, cooler perks, and sweeter T&A, rush.
On attack by fire
When fire breaks out inside enemy camp, respond with an attack from without.
Translation: Run the promotion (again). Delay the thematic. Keep up appearances.
On the use of spies
Be subtle! Be subtle! And use your spies for every kind of business.
Translation: The evolution from snitch to whistleblower is a subtle art.
Text sourced from The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Original translation by Dr Lionel Giles, 1910, Luzac & Co., London, Shanghai.