Creative Diligence in an age of misguided campaigns

Companies are under a tonne of pressure to pump out campaigns at the same speed as they would send out a tweet, jumping at lightning speed on current, popular #trends. But just because the pressure is real, doesn’t mean it’s an excuse for strategic sloppiness.

Earlier this week Mumbrella published an insightful thought piece from Adam Ferrier (Consumer Psychologists) looking at what is going on in the world of advertising follow some recent advertising missteps (aka “fails”) from quite established companies, focusing on his three key thoughts around what might be causing this.

He specifically cites the recent PepsiBig Protest’, DoveBottle Shapes’, and Macca’sDead Dad’ campaigns), which sought to tap into some relevant movements / sentiments among their audience but ended up inadvertently coming across as patronising instead, and needless to say not having the desired reaction and all of which were pulled as a result.

He makes some thoughtful arguments that open up an important discussion, but is it our penchant for “really cool” ideas that’s getting us in trouble? As a believer in creativity I’d like to expand upon some of his thoughts and further uncover why creative attempts haven’t been hitting the mark lately. (If you haven’t read Adam’s original piece I recommend so, otherwise I’ve done my best to distill down his three points by pulling out one key quote, followed by my own thoughts).

don gif

Tapping into the zeitgeist is fine, but make sure its authentic to your brand/product

POINT 1 :“More and more brands are reaching into higher-order, purpose-driven spaces, where quite frankly they shouldn’t be playing”.

Companies aligning themselves with social/political/cultural movements is not new. Marketers have always tried to align with particular values/issues relevant to their audience at the time (from women’s-liberation “Torches of Freedom” to sell women’s cigarettes in 1929, to “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” peace-loving ad to reach youths in 1971, and onward). This is in many ways the only way they can remain relevant – we know people no longer buy products that merely fulfil a practical purpose, they want products/brands that align with their values, community, lifestyle or aspirations. So sure, Pepsi won’t be starting any revolutions but you can’t blame them for the attempt at leveraging this sentiment among their audience (whether we personally approve of it or not).

These campaigns fell flat because they were opportunistic without being strategic (or at least, considered enough). It has been wisely pointed out that the “sweet spot” of ideas is where the audience is its most engaged meets where the brand is its most authentic. These campaigns tried to play in the “engaged” space, but forgot to cross-check it against the authenticity of their brand to get the fit right. There is no harm in trying to tap into the zeitgeist, but do it in a way that is credible and meaningful.

Good creativite ideas are a marathon, not a sprint 

POINT 2 : “We’re dangerously heading back into the world of the ‘Trust me I’m a creative’ territory…ideas keep popping up that have nothing to do with the brand, or sales, and more to do with the ego and careers of the creatives who created them.”

Organisations need to take care that they aren’t trying to be creative for creative’s sake, and that there is strong strategic reasoning behind their ideas. We should all by now know better than to do something just because it sounds like a cool idea, and most creatives are pretty on the ball with that, but I think the reason why we’re seeing these sort of misteps more is related to something bigger than the odd egocentric Don-Draper’s peacocking their creative prowess; these ideas are made by teams of people at a variety of levels and with a variety of agendas.

I would argue the issue is actually more about the consumer environment we’re in today. Businesses are under increasing pressure to get things done FASTER than ever before. The haste at which these campaigns are executed is a direct reflection of the current landscape and growing mentality of “I needed the next big thing yesterday.”

The process, time and patience required to pressure test concepts and give due diligence to a stage where ideas are all but bulletproof is just no longer there because nobody has the time. Companies try to pump out major campaigns at the same speed as they would send out a tweet, and jump at lightning speed on current issues and popular #trends before the conversation has passed and they’re no longer relevant. But the reality is, it isn’t possible to be speedy and considered at the same time.

P Camp gif

But just because the pressure is real, doesn’t mean it’s an excuse for strategic sloppiness. No self-respecting creative wants a dud campaign under their belt and no company sets out to fail, if they’re being hasty in their creative delivery it’s because they’re under a tonne of pressure to do so and the best way to prevent that is for organisations (from the top) to make “creative diligence” a priority and a VALUE within their team. Slow down, stop draining the dollars away on short lived trending topics and instead invest in something with a longer term strategic value. If anything, that will ensure you’re always relevant, not just for a month.

Don’t try to please everyone, but make sure you’re really pleasing those you’re supposed to

POINT 3 : “As culture gets more fragmented it’s getting more difficult to ‘guess’ where the next outrage will come from, or whose sensibilities will be offended next.”

This is not easy to address. The world has become a highly sensitive place, social media a ticking time bomb of outrage. Thirty years ago if someone was offended by an ad, they’d have to make all the effort to report it to the regulatory body, and it would only be addressed if it had enough complaints to warrant investigation and then be assessed for validity. Now, it takes one person to tweet that they don’t like something, for a couple more to get on the bandwagon, and then you have a PR crisis on your hands and potentially throw a million dollar campaign down the toilet.


Firstly, forget trying to please everyone and concentrate on really trying to please your audience. It’s not possible to never offend any single person, and it’s no longer reasonable to pretend we live in a business environment where we can ‘control’ the message – even if it’s an ad you scripted by your own hand, you can’t control how it will be interpreted. It’s not worth dumping millions of dollars just because someone who may not even be your audience doesn’t approve.

Your reaction to any backlash can ultimately define you, your sweat glands might be telling you to immediately pull a campaign and hide in the shadows, but first consider where the‘outrage’ is coming from, why it is, and from how many people? They may have little to no direct impact on your audience or business. Take the time to understand this fully before defeating yourself. But prevention is better than cure, and that comes from simply seeking to know your audience well, and understand the perceptions of your stakeholders beyond mere data – which might give you an aerial view but misses the critical detail that can make or break your campaign.

peggy plane

Don’t assume you know your audience and know how they will react (In the words of Mark Twain – “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”). Test. Test again. Try an idea before you buy it. Does it really resonate? Are there any subtle underlying sensitivities your team is not aware of? Sounds obvious but like I said, teams are under pressure and often skip this step. And just because you think an ideas is great, and it very well may be great, it might just not necessarily be the idea that your audience WANTS or NEEDS at this particular point in time.

So, is it time to give up trying to come up with cool, “out of the box” ideas and different ways to engage our audiences? That would be both regrettable and unwise. The issue is not creativity itself, it’s our approach and attitude towards it. Creative thinking, contrary to popular belief, is not about doing things fast, or using creative angles as a band-aid to hide lack of research or strategic consideration. If some teams do think this it is sadly probably an indication that creativity ways of thinking and approaching problem solving still don’t have the standing or respect that logic or analytical processes do. But creative ideas require as much due diligence as finances, and if put into practice more would probably help prevent misguided ideas.

Do you think organisations are getting too carried away with quirky concepts or do they need to be more diligent about getting creative ideas right?

Originally published (with some minor differences) on LinkedIn as Creative Diligence – a remedy for misguided campaigns? (some thoughts on Adam Ferrier’s ‘What’s going wrong in the world of advertising’, Mumbrella) on May 18, 2017


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