Ad-dendum: The truth about ‘Terrible’ brands says Arvind Krishnan

Updated: March 1, 2016 3:54:06 AM

Ad agencies must fight suggestions that pollute the idea or the product. If they don’t, ‘Terrible’ happens

Let’s create a brand that is Terrible.

Said no one ever. So why is it that about 80% of the work that is out there deserves the label ‘Terrible’?

Intentions are great. The talent is there. But Terrible happens.

We start our explorations with fancy ambition slides that have a generous splattering of iconic brands like Apple, Johnnie Walker and Nike. But Terrible still happens.

It’s happening as you’re reading this. In meeting rooms, coffee shops and bars of all shapes and sizes across the world. We all want to create market moving, popular culture bending, ROI defining, Internet breaking work. But Terrible happens. Slowly and steadily.

Knowing how to flip the finger to Terrible is a life skill everyone interested in marketing should master. There is enough written about what makes great work or how to build great brands, which you can find in any decent airport bookstore. What stokes Terrible is virgin territory, but a very important question to answer.

So what fuels Terrible? Here are some of the usual suspects that I’ve seen over time. Elephants in rooms which are often too small for them.

a) Taste

Of all the things money can buy you, taste isn’t one. And taste shows itself in everything you do. Right from the products you make to the story you wrap it in. It is the tone, the manner and the way you engage everyone around you. And there is a shortage of the right kind of taste.

Most battles in marketing are battles of taste. There is no objectivity to it. We use surrogates like consensus as tools to overcome this. And in the process knock the tooth off the tiger. And Terrible happens.

Chemistry meetings aren’t about ambitions. Everyone knows the right things to say (on either side of the table). These meetings have to be about taste. It has to be teased out and discussed and recorded for the many people that will execute to that objective over a period of time. Picking the right partners is not just a task for marketers; it is possibly a more important one for creative businesses. Our trade depends on taste.

b) Conservatism

Fail fast. Innovate or die. No pain, no gain. These are all things that are relegated to posters, notebook covers and more annoyingly, coffee mugs in most organisations today. It is a bit like sex in school…cool to talk about, but no one gets to do it.

There is still a lot of comfort in the way things have always been done. Things your competitor has done. And yes, comfort in the ordinary, the mediocre, and the lowest common denominator. Ambitions come tumbling down from Apple to bananas (read kela). And Terrible happens.

The rules of engagement have to be clearly laid out and one has to put their hand up and call out every time conservatism raises its well cropped head. Conservatism can and is often delivered as opinions about the market and the consumer. Next time you hear “That’s too creative”, you know what’s driving it. We’re in the business of creating new narratives on demand. And conservatism kills creativity.

c) Insecurity

Insecurity can be described as a sense of vulnerability or instability that threatens one’s self-image or ego. Well. Add a position of power to that and you have a ticking time-bomb. This is found in abundance in organisations, across all levels. Sometimes, the best way to ‘add value’ is to say, “Don’t change a thing.” In the age of collaboration, insecurity pings you more often. Cross-functional teams can add value, but at times, they can subtract value too. One needs to be ballsy enough to fight suggestions that pollute the idea or the product. But when we don’t fight it, Terrible happens.

d) Time and money

I want it yesterday. It is very fashionable to say this and other cool things like, “It’s better done than perfect,” etc. Amazing takes time. Terrible happened yesterday. Also, we need to learn to craft ideas to a budget. We need to be objective about what can be achieved with what we have. Often, we can envision brilliant ideas that we just cannot afford to make. And when we force that, Terrible happens.

e) Commerciality

We have all had moments when we’ve seen something beautiful, but realise that it is for a product that has no connection to what we’ve seen or heard…a “whaat?” moment. All marketing exists to persuade, to seduce and to pull you in. Sometimes one can get so carried away with the excitement of doing something disruptive and fresh that they forget to ask, “Will this move the product off the shelf?” When you sacrifice strategy for creativity, Terrible happens.

Great brands are a perfect fusion of logic and magic. John Hegarty says, “There is a reason they are called commercials.” You have to agree with that.

The author is managing director, BBH India

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