Ad agencies like mine are asked by clients to come up with brilliant work that stands out in a crowd, but once in a while, the corporate higher-ups want work “toned down a bit” so it doesn’t take any risks (though they say they want outstanding creative work). This is a recipe for making campaigns bland and invisible.
I remember doing ads for AT&T and Lufthansa when I was a copywriter at McCann-Erickson. At least half of the ads were met with:
- a great initial response from my boss along the lines of “This is fantastic!”
- a period where the ad was shown around the agency, going up several layers of management, followed by “I like it personally, but somebody might be offended. Just tone it down.”
Try as I might, I could never find the elusive “somebody.” I don’t think “somebody” actually exists. It’s just a way for managers to cover their assets and not take the risks they really ought to be taking in order to get the client noticed. Of course, staying within the boundaries of what’s right for the brand is very important. But too many companies opt for an ultra-safe route just because they are a little nervous about a concept—not because the campaign strays from the brand. You probably can’t remember a campaign that succumbed to the “tone it down” syndrome because “safe” campaigns are not memorable. Most advertising falls into this category (and that’s a shame).
How strongly do I feel about this? Let me put it way out there with this video: