Saturday, November 17, 2007

Do they have to like it?

It’s an old truism in the agency business that creatives care too much about the quality (originality, aesthetic beauty, executional detail, etc.) of their work and not enough about whether it will actually build the brand and the business. Now this is supposedly changing along with many other things in adland, but I don’t think it was even true in the old-fashioned world. And not because creatives were so focused on business results. But rather because marketers evaluate marketing ( TV in particular) much more subjectively than they usually admit, whether it works or not.

The reason I’m making this observation now is that I recently heard about two marketing clients from significant brands who killed a campaign because the marketer and his staff simply "didn’t like it.” Even though there was abundant evidence--both hard and soft metrics—that the campaign was working, they just couldn’t get over the fact that the work represented their company in style and tone that they didn’t like. It was unconventional, they weren’t. Even if the target was responding, they just don't want to be a talking monkey (that’s a placeholder).

It’s their prerogative of course; they are writing the checks. But it’s more evidence that even though managers often talk a tough game when it comes to keeping costs down, some might be just—if not more—sensitive to how the marketing looks and feels. Does my boss like it? Does my staff like it? Will I go down in company history as the idiot who approved the talking monkey campaign?

You can hardly blame them. The work a CMO stewards is more public and exposed than the work of almost anyone else in the company, certainly at the executive level. Employees might not like what the CFO has planned for them, but most can’t complain about it. The same can’t be said for a TV ad or website or DM that is going to be seen by the all the employees and their wives and most of their friends.

If it doesn’t work out, a creative can always leave it off the reel. A CMO has to live with it. It’s a dilemma, particularly when we have to challenge the client to break out of conventions in order to achieve their often ambitious goals. Of course you can always avoid clients who aren’t ready to walk the talk, but it’s hard to know that beforehand. I’m inclined to think that along with coming up with the great ideas, we also have to get good at making clients comfortable with them. A subject that is worthy of a post of it's own.

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