Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 1, 2011 8:46 PM

The Line

What happens when great Marketing creative goes bad?

It's the oldest story in the advertising book: the agency will blame the client for getting too involved in everything from the creative brief down to the casting, and the client will blame the agency for pushing the brand too far - well beyond their comfort zone. It's not uncommon to hear war stories that involve everyone else in the organization (and beyond) getting their opinions in on the decision making process - from the corporate affairs department to the CEO's wife. "Too many cooks in the kitchen"? It's the oldest line in the book, but it's hardly the reason.

There's a lot of bad advertising out there.

TV, radio, print, out of home, online, mobile and beyond. You name it. Lots of sucky advertising polluting our senses. This is where things get confusing. You'll often hear consumers say that they hate advertising. They don't. Consumers (and I'm one of them) hate bad advertising. The problem/challenge/opportunity is that there's a lot of very bad advertising floating around out there. From bad creative to a lack of targeting to the simple fact that a lot of advertising is not executed well... at all.

It's good to analyze the bad.

It's pretty easy to get excited about great advertising. It moves us. It inspires us. It makes us cry. It makes us think. It gives us moment to pause...  and more. Don't get me wrong, I admire great advertising just like the next Marketing professional, but I'm much more interested in bad advertising (I'm not joking). When I see a terribly executed creative, I don't shut off the TV, skip the commercial or flip the page in a magazine or newspaper. I look at it. I wonder which agency produced it? I wonder about how much the budget was? What the creative brief might have first looked like? What got it to the point where I'm seeing it and shaking my head in disbelief? It's like a strange, sick game in which I hope that - by deconstructing everything from the first client/agency meeting to the media company's placement - I'll be able to figure out how things went so terribly wrong. I know what you're thinking... and you're right: it's a hopeless and depressing game that will only make me question why so many smart and creative people work together in an industry where our advertising can turn out so bland.

Draw a line in the sand.

Ultimately, it's a a fool's game and the only constant realization that comes to me - as I stare blankly at a major brand who is working with one of the leading creative shops and developed a steaming pile of messaging - is: "someone should have drawn a line." Things can always go too far: from ideation to budget and overall campaign management. The challenge is in identifying up front (and mark it in bold at the top of the creative brief) where the line is. It has to be a line that no one is willing to cross or drop below (it's simply not allowed). This way, even if things go awry, you have the lighthouse to navigate you back to why everyone (and all of this money) is sitting in these different offices trying to make this brand successful. When you look at bad advertising, it becomes abundantly clear that the lines either did not exist or (and this one is more likely) that the lines moved. If someone moves the line, the bar gets dropped and this is how we wind up in a scenario where the last line uttered before stamping it final sounds like, "screw it, this was the best that we could do."

I wish more brands and their agencies would draw more lines... don't you?

By Mitch Joel