What could possibly go wrong? Part I

The mistakes marketers make are less often disseminated than the success stories.  Yet not only do all marketers make mistakes, but they are of course an important part of gaining the necessary experience in one’s chosen profession.  It’s perhaps too easy to believe that we would not have fallen into the same traps, seen what should have been obvious, avoided possible warnings, etc., that have ensnared others.  But it would be remarkable to progress through a marketing career, which necessarily involves taking risks sometimes, committing corporate funds and putting one’s reputation on the line, without regretting an action that resulted in an unfortunate outcome.

So here are some things I’ve learned along the way, culled both from my own direct experience and/or from the organizations I have worked for.

The first of these is: Always attend shoots.

The agency has absorbed just about everything there is to know about the brand, having worked closely with the client over a number of years and through many campaigns.  The creative strategy is well understood, the script for the new commercial agreed, the pre-production meeting held, the shooting script agreed – all is set for the shoot itself.  The only problem being, that for logistical or other reasons, you – as the client – cannot attend the shoot, or part of it.  But what could go wrong?  Everyone is clear what has to be done and there is complete trust between client and agency.  However…

Here are three examples of what did, indeed, go wrong at TV commercial shoots that I had responsibility for, yet did not attend:

  1. An animated commercial was being shot for the launch of a new stock cube for the UK market, under the Brown & Polson brand, in Hollywood. The client and agency did not fly out to check progress on the ad until it was all but finished.  The problem became apparent immediately, however.  The kitchen that had been created for the dinosaur family (a fantastical notion, of course) was typically American, with a breakfast bar, but totally unlike anything to be found in a British home at the time (1980).  Something so obvious had simply been overlooked and therefore not briefed.  Fortunately, within a hurried week (this is before the advent of Macs) the Los Angeles suburban kitchen had been replaced with one more likely to be found in Ealing.
  2. In the early ‘80s, at the height of the Sony Walkman boom, the enormous potential for Duracell batteries in this accessory of the moment was realised. An appropriate script for the UK market was approved, requiring a desert highway of the kind found in the American Southwest, but nevertheless transposing the situation conceptually to the UK.  The shoot duly took place in the US, without the client present.  On reviewing the rushes, all agreed they looked great – except in one respect: the pickup truck in the ad was driving on the right of the road.  So the ad became a rather more literal representation of an American reality than had been intended; fortunately, the commercial – which, incidentally, is quite likely the first by a major brand on British TV to feature black actors – went on to do a great job for Duracell.
  3. Another Duracell ad – featuring two ocean-going yachts – required a range of locations, as well as a studio sequence. The only location not attended by the client resulted in, on viewing of the footage, the revelation that one sequence had been rather too enthusiastically interpreted by the director: when the ‘ordinary’ battery died, the radio cassette player was shown being tossed overboard and into the sea.  Even in the mid-late ‘80s we were trying to take our environmental responsibilities seriously, and the inclusion of such a sequence, in an ad with a heavy media schedule, would not be a good look for the brand.  Careful editing, so that the ad showed only the initial frustrated arm movement of the crew member when his music stopped, replaced the previous environmentally destructive sequence.  Despite the success of the final commercial, it was not a deed to be proud of.

In summary, therefore, there is simply nothing to replace being present when your expensive and important commercial is being made.  It is impossible to anticipate everything that may occur on the shoot, and however well-tuned in to the brand the account manager and creative team may be, the client ultimately has to take ownership and, therefore, be present.

Further discussion of this topic is welcomed.

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