die in meetings
or become compromised
to a state of impotence
Those of us in the creative department have asked the question so many times it has become rote. The best answer is not an answer. Clients are difficult. Period. Especially when it comes to approving work.
Therefore, we expect our work to be criticized. Revisions and changes are baked into the scope. It is assumed there will be rounds of creative. We are told that if we were in our client’s shoes we’d do the same thing.
But you know what? That’s bullshit. I am far from perfect but I am usually an accepting, flexible, and even grateful client. When I hire someone to do a creative job — say, an architect — I never give him or her the kind of scrutiny that is always given to new marketing campaigns.
For example, a contractor shows me some designs for a room addition. I tell him which one I like, we discuss time and money, and I pay the man.
Once in a while I have questions or a change is required. We address it in real time, during construction. We move forward. Even when it’s my money and my house, I am seldom a hard ass.
Chances are, you’re the same way.
So, why are advertising clients so freaking difficult? Why all the concerns, tweaks and rejections? I think the answer is fear.
CMO’s and the like are terrified (sometimes understandably) of losing their jobs. Often my counterparts at the agency feel the same way. Every tree we plant must bear fruit. Or else!
Yet, endlessly hacking at the unplanted tree virtually guarantees a fruitless outcome. Death by a thousand cuts is no different than doing nothing at all. After months of revisions, the concept either dies in a meeting or, produced, it has been so severely compromised as to be ineffective in the marketplace.
Everyone gets fired anyway. Another CMO comes in. Another agency. The process begins all over again. This is the definition of insanity.
Creating campaigns is thrilling. Yet, their yield potential is and always will be unknown Hence the thrill.
ROI is as possible as it is not. No one can be sure how an audience will react to an idea until the thing is out there. What makes a client nervous might very well be what makes the idea truly great.
We all know the story behind the world’s greatest advertisement, Apple’s 1984. When it was screened to dealers everyone except its creators hated it. The agency, Chiat Day was told to fire-sell the media, which happened to be two slots on the Super Bowl. One insertion never sold. So the spot ran.
The rest is history.
The follow-up commercial, Lemmings was a failure. Was Apple really hurt by it? No. Being reckless and cavalier has never hurt the brand. Frankly, Apple could stand more bravery.
It’s 2018. Why is everyone still afraid of new creative? If a concept doesn’t work merely try something else. The “brand” will be fine.
Belaboring over the blueprint is an old idea. And a bad one. The digital age is about iterating. Swipe right. These days, fear and inertia are scarier than any new idea.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A copywriter by trade, Steffan is perhaps best known for his provocative and iconic work on Altoids, The Curiously Strong Mints. Early into his long tenure at Leo Burnett, Steffan co-wrote “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” which (for better or worse) became a part of the lexicon.
Steffan currently provides creative leadership at Jumbo Shrimp, a San Francisco boutique responsible for elevating the creative product across a broad range of B2B and technology clients.
A one-time recipient of Crain’s prestigious “40 under 40,” Steffan is immersed in new media. His popular blog, Gods of Advertising was recently ranked top 20 by Business Insider.
He’s the recipient of advertising’s most prestigious awards, including numerous One Show Pencils, the Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America, and gold and silver Lions from Cannes.
Steffan has written three novels, all of which are available via online booksellers. His horror screenplay, Belzec: The Made Undead won Best Horror Screenplay at Action on Film, Chicago’s Horror Fest and several other festivals.