The ad agency/marketing world has built themselves into Gods. We’ve promised brands that we can help them grow, scale and win hearts. We’ve promised silver bullet solutions, and monumental increases in sales. A lot of the time, we’ve delivered. But those heady promises and impressive track record at some point will catch up, and that’s when the fear begins to creep in.
Because currently, fear is ever present in agencies. It’s at every creative brief and client feedback session. It’s hovering over the ideas board and lurking in corners. The fear of not delivering or upsetting clients is monumental, and remember, we now live in a world where any mistakes will be documented, tweeted, recorded, made into memes and forever etched into our digital footprint. There is quite literally no getting away from it. And social media platforms have given every single person the ability to point and laugh. Pepsi’s recent campaign fiasco is enough to make agencies crawl under the table and hide behind mundane, ‘play it safe’ solutions for the next century. There are also too many necks on the line and losing your job is very real when there are so many hungry creatives ready to step into your shoes and take your place.
But here’s the thing, our world won’t survive that. We can’t afford to hide behind the safe bet and easy wins. That’s not our purpose our what we’re about. Surely the ad agencies of this world were put here, and initially built, to disrupt and shake people up a bit. To offer different points of view and to push boundaries, and in turn, consumers. For example, Nandos adverts in South Africa are truly outrageous with their political commentary and satire, however, they’re lauded as progressive and their fans love them for it.
What we really need, is clients to give permission for agencies to fail. It has to be okay to mess up, stumble and make mistakes, otherwise how do we grow and learn? There has to be an understanding from clients when working with agencies that those briefs can only be delivered if they’re willing to allow for those risks and failure. If they’re willing to have a little courage. The household cleaning product Cillit Bang is a prime example of this. Originally failing every single consumer test prior to its launch, their marketing director stuck his neck out because of his adamant belief that it would work. Lo and behold it’s one of the most popular cleaning products currently. Because process and rules only take us so far, and sometimes, having the courage to stick with your intuition is just what’s needed.
And the failing is going to happen at times, OF COURSE it is. But as ever, it’s how we get back up again after the falls that will demonstrate just how great the agency is. For example, Lynx was mentioned in a channel 4 documentary as the favourite fragrance for people pursuing sexual fetishes. Lynx turned the unfortunate association into a spoof twitter campaign and used it to engage with their audience.
Marketing and ad nightmares are going to come because we live in a digital arena and those risks will always be there, but there has to be courage and bravery, and more importantly, the unwavering support of the clients. Nervous clients make for tense project leads which makes for a frazzled creative teams and ditched ideas.
There has to be space for failure. No one likes to admit it, but it’s a solid fact of our world. We’re not saying that every single campaign you create should be outlandish and sensational just for the sake of it. No, that’s terrible advice and if anyone gives it to you, tell them to go away. This is about taking calculated risks, doing the right research and trusting the creative process. Creativity and art is designed, in its purest form, to spark conversations, shift feelings and a lot of the time, make people slightly uncomfortable. And we agencies are nothing but artists, whatever medium we choose to paint on. It’s time to unleash all our creativity and stop worrying about the backlash, it’s only limiting our possibilities, and we owe it to ourselves to give it everything we’ve got. We owe it to our clients to give them what they need, not what they think they want, and clients owe it to themselves to trust and accept those suggestions.