Famous creative people have fewer ideas than the generic creative people. The Coen brothers walk in with a story idea and the first words out of your mouth aren’t, “what else have you got?” So you ask yourself, what would their track record be like if they had to pitch concepts by the dozens and then go through a vetting process with focus groups? Fargo becomes Mayberry.
You can’t run an organization without process. But, procedure is the enemy of originality.
Most companies have a department dedicated to idea killing. Ironically, it’s called marketing. Now these bright, enthusiastic people don’t want to kill ideas, because they were put on this earth to bring ideas to life that will engage consumers and increase profits. Yet they are miscast in the role of professional filters eliminating anything that might embarrass the CEO or activate the legal department and public affairs. No wonder CMOs have such a short tenure. Their marching orders are to help win the war, but don’t get anyone shot at.
So if the corporate objective is to avoid risk first and get attention second, ideas get killed.
A healthier mind-set would be to treat every creative person as the next incarnation of Lee Clow, Alex Bogusky, or Jeff Goodby. Looking for the brilliance in an idea is a much healthier orientation than the mental metal detector scanning for the flaw. There should be a universal no idea left behind rule. After all, a little combustibility might be just what a brand needs most.
So am I actually suggesting companies should lead with their chins and embrace controversy?
No. What is needed, though, is a little more aggression and a little less caution. Self-confident companies take bolder positions and defy conventions.
Years ago when Mastadons walked the earth and young people drank wine coolers, Hal Riney had the audacity to use geezers playing the roles of Bartels and Jaymes to sell cocktails to twenty somethings. These guys were seriously old, wore plaid shirts and suspenders and completely defied conventional wisdom. All they did was sell so much product that no one can remember any other wine cooler brand.
Today in Australia, Kotex brand is running a campaign with a beaver. Yeah, you read it right, a beaver. It’s controversial to be sure. But no one’s getting hurt and a lot of women are buying Kotex.
I can’t know for sure that this idea didn’t come out of a stack of thirty storyboards. But wherever it started, there’s a famous creative person and famous client attached to it now. Somehow their process didn’t kill their profits.