The rewards for ad campaign bravery, subversion, and measured risks have never been greater. So why do nearly all marketing efforts suck? 

It was 10:45 pm on a Thursday evening. A COO of a medical device company stopped by our offices seven hours ago for a drink and conversation. One drink had become many and rapidly consumed finger foods became an ordered-in meal. As the evening waxed long and the pace of conversation slowed he grew pensive and asked me, “what do you think of our launch?”  Despite the late hour and my general tiredness, I felt the tension rising in his voice. His dissatisfaction was obvious. Our agency had helped architect a strategy for a new product that he oversaw. 

The ideas, the messaging, the visuals for the product launch had been concepted beautifully.  The campaign was bold. It planted a large stake in a crowded market place. Trouble was, the medical device company was owned by a much larger system that demanded campaign oversight. There were layers upon layers of approvals. Meetings beget other meetings and the process devolved into “campaign by consensus.”  

“We can’t say this because of that.” 

“That image has to change because of ….”  

Too many stakeholders evaluated this product campaign from the various internal perspectives reduced a powerful message to, “Here’s our new thing and it’s available on this date.

Over the past dozen years, I have watched countless amazing ideas die in the hands of committees. I have been convinced that there is no idea whose effectiveness cannot be reduced to blandness through compromise.

“Of course we can take those words out.” 

“Sigh. We can muddle the message so that it doesn’t ruffle feathers.”  

“Those visuals can be removed so that the concept looks like every other ad in your industry.”  

There is no ad concept that will stand out in a crowded field that will not offend someone. I was reminded of this recently by a brilliant copy guy who has worked on some of the most effective campaigns in the past three decades we he said, “…the best advertising, the really powerful, arresting stuff that stops people in their tracks will generate a fair amount of negative reaction from a decent percentage of people.” 

We looked over a table of leftovers and empty glasses.  I turned back to my friend and asked him, “What do you think of the campaign?”

“It has no balls.”  

As we began to clean up the evening I nodded in agreement, “It has no balls.”