This article first appeared on Campaign. Read it here.
I was once asked by Campaign for my “personal mantra'” and I responded with the answer, “Simplicity is Genius”.
The biggest obstacle we face in our daily battle to deliver great marketing is that people over-complicate very simple things. From brand onions filled with every adjective in the dictionary, to ridiculous ad-tracking research asking people to move a joystick or twitch their facial muscles while they watch an ad to isolate the good and bad bits.
I was reminded of the simplicity mantra this week when England got knocked out of the Euro’s. I pondered how a team of players from Charlton Athletic (relegated from League One last season), Cardiff City and the giants of what is surely the only team in the world with a “/” symbol in its name (Bodo/Glimt) had beaten England’s Premier League stars.
The answer is, of course, Iceland kept things simple.
Iceland got off to a disastrous start. Their game plan was to defend, to contain and frustrate England and yet they found themselves a goal down after just four minutes. Yet from the restart, they didn’t panic – a huge contrast with the England side when they found themselves behind – and stuck to their simple three phase plan for scoring a goal.
Phase one was to launch the ball high in the air to a wide front-man. This was an excellent strategy for winning throw-ins near the opposition box, and very easy to execute.
Phase two of the plan was to use a long throw to put the ball on the head of a teammate who flicked the ball into the penalty area.
Finally, in phase three of the plan, the strikers looked to get clear of their markers and latch on to the header to smash the ball into the net, which they did with ease against England.
It’s not a new strategy, Jack Charlton used it in 1990 to take Ireland to the World Cup Quarter Finals with a limited but willing group of players.
It’s not even the first time Iceland have scored from this strategy in the tournament. They scored an identical goal against Austria and ITV’s Lee Dixon showed numerous clips of them trying it out in other games. England’s failure to prepare for this is inexplicable.
Contrast Iceland’s approach with that of England. There was no evidence of any pre-agreed strategy for how to play in the entire match. Every time an Iceland player got the ball, in any position, he knew what to do next and where his teammates would be to help him.
Every time England got the ball they were starting from scratch, desperately wondering what to do and usually ending up with some over-elaborate attempt or losing possession thanks to mis-communication between the players.
Historically, England have grown into tournaments, getting better with each game. Here, they got steadily worse. Again, they massively over-complicated something extremely simple – the basics of team selection. Iceland played the same eleven players, in the same positions, for four games in a row.
England made change after change through the group stage – and then changed back again for the knockout.
Iceland had a simple plan. Everyone knew it inside out. It was easy to execute and they executed it well. England had a lot of talent but over-complicated every aspect of the tournament, changed direction daily and lacked a simple, coherent plan that everyone could commit to making happen.
So in an attempt to rescue something from the worst England performance of all-time, let’s think about our agency, our marketing department or our next big project and ask ourselves, “how can we be more Iceland?”