The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

A Little Bit Wrong Can Make It A Little Bit Right …
May 3, 2013, 6:11 am
Filed under: Comment

Mr Lovemarks cops a load of shit.

And yes, I admit a lot of that has – at some point or another – come from me.

But recently I saw the above quote from him and I am prepared to cut him a bit of slack, because he’s right … incredibly correct is incredibly boring.

I don’t know if it’s ALWAYS incredibly boring, but it can definitely have moments of it.

Now I should point out that when I say this, I mean it in the context of adland. Trust me, where surgeons and pilots are concerned, I absolutely want them to always be incredibly correct and in no way would I ever consider that to be boring.

But back to my point …

You see I sometimes worry that planners are obsessed with ‘being right’.

It’s as if they view their job as one big competition and being labelled ‘the winner’ is all that matters.

However the issue is they are the only ones playing that game. They are the only ones that care.

But there’s something even worse with adopting this attitude.

To be always right means to be always in your comfort zone.

To not look a bit further.

To not surrender to instinct.

To not look beyond what has gone in the past.

Now of course, we justify this behaviour by saying “We’re doing what’s right by our clients and our audience. We’re helping them both win” … but my question is, are we?

What this approach results in is average.

Average ideas.

Average impact.

Average results.

And while many companies would happily choose this approach over any degree of risk, it also means we’re not planning, we’re simply packaging.

Packaging the past to represent the future.

Packaging passive to represent responsible.

Packaging category to represent relevance.

In short, in our quest to always ‘be right’, we are basically ensuring we only take on the smallest battles possible … where the goal is to steal a bit of share from one of their existing competitors in one of their existing categories.

But what if we weren’t obsessed with always being right?

What if we took some chances – calculated chances – but chances all the same?

What if we stopped helping brands ‘fit in’ with societies current point of view and started nudging/encouraging/pushing them into the unknown and exciting? A place where they can see the fascinating, interesting and intriguing?

I know … I know … ‘commercial realities’ mean this would be unprofessional.

But would it?

I could argue that actively limiting a brand from reaching its greater potential is more unprofessional.

I could say that using limited research to claim to know the audience is more unprofessional.

I could state basing decisions on what the competition are doing rather than what the audience want is more unprofessional.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should adopt an attitude of ‘experiment without consequence’.

That might be nice, but that’s not what we’re paid to do.

My argument is that if we stop our obsession with being always right and start embracing sources of influence that go outside of our carefully constructed, job security pedestals, we might end up somewhere new, interesting and bigger.

Not just in terms of advertising, but in terms of commercial impact.

Of course this needs to be done with a level of responsibility, but if we want planning to be more highly regarded and respected – seen as a tool of liberation rather than protection – then it’s time to stop trying to always be right and start taking on the unknown.

30 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Bravo Robert.

Comment by George

For the sake of clarity, my above comment is genuine, I am not being sarcastic. This is a fantastic post. Great points expressed with great passion though I don’t know if average ideas always lead to average results. Far from it sadly. The reality is that average ideas often work because the clients has above average distribution but agencies ignore that point when writing their self congratulatory case studies.
More shockingly, this excellent piece was influenced by Kevin Roberts. And not in a bad way. Amazing.

Comment by George

You don’t have to explain yourself. We all know George doesn’t do sarcasm.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Of course I don’t Billy. Of course I don’t.

Comment by George


Comment by DH

I see what you did there George. It didn’t go to waste on me.

Comment by Bazza

Immature prick.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Well done George, that was awesome.

Sorry Billy, but your pain was George’s cred as the ‘hardman of Googleville’s’, gain.

Comment by Rob

I read that as incredibly conformist rather than incredibly right so that makes it right on two interpretations for the same reasons.

Comment by John

I read your name as John May. For a sick moment I thought a relation of Brian May had come on here and Rob would never shut up about it.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Doubly amazing.

Comment by John

Congratulations Rob, you’ve just done something no one else has been able to do, make Kev sound half intelligent. A job with S&S is yours whenever you want it. Or when doctors advice you to go and stay in a place to die quietly, slowly and peacefully.

Comment by DH

You’d kill yourself if you worked at S&S. The pain and depression would be too much for anyone to stand. Even Campbell who likes listening to queen.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Good point.

Comment by DH

I agree with George, this is a great post. That said, “correct” doesn’t always mean you’re in your comfort zone, it can also mean you’ve spent time exploring and researching a theory or hypothesis to discover whether you are correct.

Of course the problem with that theory is that adland now works in such short timelines, that having the ability to fully research and explore theories and hypothesis is fantasy rather than reality. That is unless you work on Danone who seem happy to spend 6 months arguing about 2 words in a brand pyramid that no one will ever see or refer to.

Really enjoyed this post Rob. It was almost worth having your latest holiday for.

Comment by Pete

I like how you and George talk up this post but have little digs about it at the same time. Andy would be proud.

Comment by Bazza

Yes, it’s like something has been added to the water at Googleville.

Comment by Rob

Something bitter that leaves a sour taste in their mouth.

Comment by Bazza

I’m glad we are in agreement that airline pilots are exempt from Mr Roberts view. An excellent read Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

You are right (and not in a boring way). We always should try to stir things up, at least a little bit and try to connect with people through a new approach, not the classic safe gameplay.

Comment by albretel

A very smart Art Director I once worked with said: “If most clients were totally honest about their advertising objective, it would say ‘Create mild interest in the brand’. Because the last thing they really want is something huge; they’ll all settle for last year plus 5%”.

And in most cases it’s true, isn’t it?

Comment by Ian Gee

Yep, absolutely. So much in adland is just lip service without wanting responsibility or added workload.

That’s why – without wanting to sound like a toady bastard – I love [OK, like] so many of my clients because their ambitions are real and they understand the implications and responsibility necessary to see that happen. Not always, but a damn site more than most.

That art director was very smart indeed.

Comment by Rob

If clients were even more honest, many would say make the board feel good about themselves

Comment by northern

Or let the R&D folk feel their meaningless innovation is like they’ve just smashed the atom.

Comment by Rob

This post comforts me as I am almost never right

Comment by northern

Neither am I … hence I reframed ‘correctness’ to mean wrong. Now that is real planning. Ahem.

Talking of ‘real planning’, I’m away Mon/Tues judging the effectiveness awards again. I actually gave even less marks than I did last year – which means the final judging is going to be an absolute shitfight. I’m excited.

Comment by Rob

Ah Mr Campbell,

I totally agree with Kevin but then I would as he is my boss.
I totally agree with you but then I would as I have been talking about this for a decade.
I find it more difficult to agree with some of the comments though, I have been at S&S for five years and haven’t felt any compunction to kill myself yet, far from it I’m having a rather nice time. But then maybe that’s because we I found somewhere that believes in being interesting first and right second just as you so masterfully advocate.

Comment by Richard

Hello Richard. This is like having the Queen pop in to my local kebab shop in Nottingham … unexpected and very nice.

Thank you for your comment, it’s very good and fair – as you would expect – and for the record, no one on here talks any sense (least of all me) so to give a modicum of attention to the comments is time you really shouldn’t bother wasting.

Finally, while I have my issues with Mr Roberts, I obviously don’t spread that view to all of S&S. Apart from having a number of friends who work/worked there (including your old London MD) the body of work – and quite a lot of the present- is still better than the majority of agencies out there, including many of the latest ‘we’re so hot, we have to shake hands wearing oven gloves’ crowd.

Anyway, thanks for commenting, I hope you make a momentary lack of judgement and do it again soon.

Comment by Rob

Does everyone like how I’ve just thrown you all under the bus?! Ha.

(Lee, you’re obviously exempt, you always talk sense)

Comment by Rob

A few days late to this one, but excellent. Reminds me of when I, still hoping to get into planning, asked the host of the Future Marketing Summit a question that panned Lovemarks on your behalf – after Kevin Roberts had been the key speaker the previous day.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Leave a Reply