Having spent close to 20 years in the creative departments of ad agencies, I’ve always found it curious how the vast majority of companies all but ensure that their marketing efforts end in failure. Why? Because they’ve burdened themselves with the Armies of “No.”
The Armies of “No” are all the extraneous people who are called on to weigh in on the latest marketing campaign, regardless of their having any actual expertise in marketing.
And by “extraneous” I mean anyone who is not the CMO or the handful of people who report directly to the CMO. Product managers. In-house legal teams. Graphic standards guardians. External consultants. They’re all called upon to offer their opinion on a specific part of the campaign, but in my experience, that rarely happens.
Mostly it’s human nature: someone calls on you to offer an opinion and you feel you need to offer something beyond a rubber stamp or be viewed as a dolt. So you find something to criticize, something to improve upon, and that “something” is usually the entire campaign. Not just their small piece of it.
Let’s take Product Managers. Product managers and sales managers know the product better than anyone, so they’re often called upon to weigh in on the advertising. Ideally, their commentary should be limited to “The Acme 24X actually comes with 3 widgets, not 2″ or “The free shoeshine with purchase program actually wound up costing us a lot more than we expected.”
What happens in reality is that they feel it is well within their rights to offer piquant critiques of the campaign in general. In language that anything but reflective:
“I don’t like that photograph.”
“I just don’t.”
“Well can you explain why?”
“I just don’t, Okay!! She doesn’t look like someone I’d want to be friends with.
“But would the target feel that way?”
“We’re not using that photo. You’ll have to find another one.”
Now in many companies, the marketing team is simply not empowered to tell the product manager to shut the heck up, that those are not the sort of decisions she’s being asked to make and that all she’s being asked to comment on is the veracity of the ad or banner or PR letter.
That, or the marketing team may have six more projects with this particular project manager and they don’t want to make her an enemy. Plus they’ve got to face the legal team, whose solution to phrases they don’t feel comfortable with is to rewrite copy and declare it unchangeable. The brand guidelines team, who’ll re-art direct the entire banner so that it feels like they’ve had some input. And sometimes even the owner’s spouse, who simply doesn’t like the color orange.
In all these situations the onus is on the CEO to make marketing a priority. To play an active role in defending the campaign and to let the Armies of “No” know that advertising is not something just anyone can do, and that he’s purposely hired the ad agency and the marketing department for their expertise in this area. So please just shut up and listen to them.
This sort of control is especially important now, when consumers are disinclined to listen to corporate messaging and are demanding honesty, not banal platitudes. Companies must rid themselves of the Armies of “No” now, or they will all but ensure their ultimate defeat.