James Swift

11 January 2021

What’s luck got to do with it? 

Lucky Generals co-founder Andy Nairn has written a book exploring the role that luck plays in building brands and how marketers and agencies can improve their own fortunes

Photo by Adi Coco on Unsplash

Professor Richard Wiseman had a theory about the psychology of luck and set out to prove it with a simple experiment.

He appealed for participants that considered themselves especially lucky or unlucky and then asked them to count all the photographs in a newspaper. Typically, the unlucky ones took minutes to finish the task while the lucky ones took just a few seconds.

The lucky ones weren’t quicker, it transpired, they were just more likely to spot the message, on page two of the newspaper, that told them exactly how many photos it contained and letting them know they’d won a prize.

‘His point is that a lot of luck is about not having a head so buried in a task that you’re blind to all the other opportunities around you,’ says Lucky Generals co-founder Andy Nairn, who has written a book about luck and brand building, called Go Luck Yourself, which will be published in June.

Nairn says that he became preoccupied with luck and how it applies to the ad industry at the outset of the pandemic. Although they’ve been running an agency with the word ‘lucky’ in it for seven years, Nairn and his co-founders had always leaned into the military connotations of the name (it’s a Napoleon Bonaparte quote) rather than the idea of good fortune.

‘And that’s what’s at the heart of the book,’ says Nairn. ‘No one ever really talks about luck [in advertising]. It’s a taboo subject. And yet, a lot of people are starting to talk about luck in society more generally, because there’s been this recognition of privilege.

‘We’ve all felt unlucky in the past year, and the reason I wrote the book is that I became conscious that, although last year was a bit of a shit storm, a lot of people have had a lot less luck than me. So, I liked the idea of writing a book that would hopefully bring some luck to people who are less fortunate.’

To that end, Nairn has promised all the royalties from sales of Go Luck Yourself to Commercial Break, an organisation that helps working-class youngsters get into advertising. Meanwhile, those who buy the book are promised ‘40 ways’ to stack the odds in their brand’s favour.

We want to minimise the chance that bad things could happen, but in the process we sometimes eliminate the possibility of good things happening, too.

Andy Nairn, Lucky Generals

‘Insofar as we ever do mention luck,’ says Nairn of the ad industry, ‘it’s usually a bad thing, like saying “leave nothing to chance” or “luck isn’t a strategy.”

‘So a lot of our processes are about eliminating luck. When I started in the industry we had pre-prod meetings, now we have pre pre-prod meetings. Sometimes we have pre pre pre-prod meetings.

‘I get why. We live in an unpredictable world and we want to minimise the chance that bad things could happen, but in the process we sometimes eliminate the possibility of good things happening, too.’ 

As well as using the book to discuss the psychology of individual luck and how agencies and marketers can improve their fortune, Nairn also pulls case studies from his own history and explores how luck played a role.

For example, the work that Nairn did for Hovis while at MCBD, is used to illustrate how ‘a lot of luck is about realising how lucky you are in the first place.’

Hovis came to MCBD when it was in a bad place. It was on the verge of being delisted and believed that the only way it could survive was to modernise, to the extent that it ignored its rich history.

In that context, ‘going into the heritage archive was the least obvious thing to do,’ says Nairn. ‘But we went back in there and it was amazing. We said: “You have to appreciate how lucky you are to have this unbelievable backlog of history.”’

The result was the multi award-winning spot, Go On Lad, which helped Hovis end 2008 with a 14% sales boost and put the brand back at the top of its category.

Nairn also talks about how bookmaker Paddy Power (a former Lucky Generals client) embraces luck with its Mischief Department, which is responsible for the brand’s PR-grabbing stunts, like #ShaveTheRainforest or the ‘Drunk Tank’ that it sent to Royal Ascot.

‘They know that some of their stunts will go wrong,’ says Nairn, ‘but they’re not trying to strip luck out of the equation – by trying lots of things they know some will pay off brilliantly.’

Even Apple demonstrated a reverence for good fortune, says Nairn, with its $5 billion campus headquarters in California, which was designed to encourage serendipitous encounters between employees.

So what is Nairn’s advice to agencies and marketers? Turn up to film shoots and hope for the best? Pick your agency partners out of a tombola? Not quite.

To me it’s not about chucking all the processes,’ says Nairn. ‘It’s just being conscious as you’re going through a process to leave holes for the fun and unpredictable stuff to flourish. Planned spontaneity...if that’s not a contradiction.’  

You can pre-order a copy of Go Luck Yourself here.