In the wake of Apple’s now-retracted Genius commercials, I received quite a few emails asking:
“How could that even happen?”
Good question. However, a much bigger question is, why does any company end up with a bad ad? Turn on the TV any given night and you’re sure to see an impressive display of world-class clunkers.
Where does all the badness come from?
Though mediocre creative people do exist, more often the problem is mediocre clients. The marketing directors at many companies (1) don’t have terrific advertising taste, (2) don’t appreciate the power of creativity, or (3) are unwilling to stand up to their superiors. Or some unsavory combination thereof.
There’s an old saying in the industry that companies get exactly the advertising they deserve. I think that’s absolutely true. Some clients push their agencies to excel creatively, others run their businesses by the numbers. Some clients put faith in agencies as full partners, others see agencies as mere order-takers.
But even that doesn’t explain all of the bad ads out there. Because even talented agencies working with terrific clients have been known to produce a dud or two.
In one sense it’s puzzling, because there are so many checks and balances built into the process of ad creation. The original idea has to pass by at least one creative director. The agency account and strategy teams weigh in, along with agency management. And finally the client must approve the idea — oftentimes more than one client.
How is it that so many people can miss the obvious?
In the case of a bad concept or bad strategy, there’s no good excuse. However, not all bad ads are born that way. Sometimes it’s a case of “a good idea gone bad.” That is, the idea started with promise, it just went south during production. For an ad to turn out great, a lot of things have to go right.
You need a talented director, perfect casting, a world-class editor and music that lends just the right emotion. If you’re a creative person, and you have all of these things working for you, you still need to deal with the comments and suggestions you’re likely to get from supervisors and clients.
It really does take a special combination of talent, experience and vigilance to protect a great idea from concept to finish. One thing going wrong is all it takes to turn an award-winner into an also-ran.
Ironically, bad ads are sometimes the result of an ideal situation. Some creative agencies are fortunate enough to have clients willing to take risks to achieve greatness. However, when an agency is allowed to shoot for the stars, an occasional failure can be the price.
A good example of this would be the Apple-Chiat relationship. The volume of great ads they’ve produced far outweighs the occasional misstep.
When I worked on IBM in days gone by, and the agency was winning awards by the truckload, our leaders frequently credited IBM for giving us “the freedom to fail.” That kind of support from a client is rare, but it’s a wonderful thing. For the fact is, clients who forbid failure limit their upside along with their downside.
Though they are born of many causes, bad ads are just a fact of life. They won’t be going away anytime soon. In a weird way, those of us in the industry should actually be thankful for them. It’s because they exist that the great ads seem even greater.
Tags: apple genius ads