The Idea Killing Department

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.

Dove’s real beauties are unreal. So is the outrage. Shut up and finish your Whopper.

For years marketers have been criticized for creating unreal expectations for female
beauty. Well, marketers don’t lead culture, they follow it. Marketers just give us what
we want. We start young. Barbie dolls teach our girls that it’s ideal to be stacked and
skinny. Movie producers cast only size zero women under twenty five years old. Ok, a
few older, more solid roles exist, but Kathy Bates gets those parts.

Then Dove comes along and reminds us that real women, those a little rounder and
softer than the under-fed icons of the industry, are what is really beautiful.

The usual media circus breaks out calling our attention to the right-sizing of our beauty
standards. Models around the world can take a break from saltines and celery for a
deep dish pizza or two, perhaps washed down with beer. A consensus formed around
the notion that it’s about time we celebrate what we’ve really become: pudgy.
Reubenesque beauty is back.

Then the disclosure that perhaps these more robust models were re-touched. Outrage
is unleashed in the direction of the very marketers we were celebrating. How dare they
be so hypocritical as to suggest something is real and then enhance it with retouching.
Particularly after pitching the shots as un-retouched. The controversy quickly died down
when Dove denied any re-touching. End of story. It’s seems as our waistbands expand
our collective attention span recedes.

Welcome to the new world of marketing. It’s always been our objective to get noticed.
Now with the web 2.0 world of immediate feedback, controversy is inevitable. Believe it
or not, there were blogs that chastised Dove for suggesting its OK for women to be out
of shape. Written by men, I might add. Bill Zwecker of CBS’s morning show in Chicago
for one. Richard Roeper, the movie critic for two, who said he found the Dove
advertising, “unsettling.” Big thighs didn’t sit well with Richard.

With time for a little reflection, it might be pointed out that this campaign once-again
proved its effectiveness to get noticed. I admire the courage of corporate marketers to
push a polarizing concept into the market place. Not strictly for the sake of controversy,
but to illustrate through the debate the attributes of a brand. If a model’s skin doesn’t
need firming, why cast her for the role in a firming lotion ad?

As marketers, we’re being presented with tremendous opportunities. If we’re willing to
put our brands into the public forum, we’ll get feedback. It takes confidence and
preparation – it’s not a monologue any more. But, if the the product’s right and we’ve
got our game on, we can get mass attention with or without the media’s ability to deliver
a mass audience.

As far as the re-touching controversy goes, let’s get real. What the photographer does
with lighting and make-up isn’t intended to replicate the frozen food isle at the grocery
store. So what if a re-toucher removes a stray hair, or smoothes a curve.