Are you executing something already dead on arrival?

A great central idea can carry out in countless ways… but the central idea is key.

A great central idea can carry out in countless ways… but the central idea is key.

The marketing presentation deck sitting on my desk was a good quarter inch thick—probably more—perhaps designed to impress with its sheer bulk. I picked it up and admired its unabashed stage presence. It was like a hefty opera singer donning a Wagnerian horned helmet.

I looked at the cover, containing a simple and direct title, and I thought about the agency that put this plan together (a friend of mine, the marketer they prepared it for, gave it to me for my opinion). The agency had obviously dropped huge chunks of their lives into this effort, like a sausage grinder.

“This was a lot of work,” I muttered to myself. I had no desire to do the pile of chores on my list, so I figured I’d settle down and really take it all in.

From page one, this marketing plan started differently than any other I had ever seen, but not in a good way. The first page was a wall-to-wall bulleted list of how the campaign would play out. It talked about transit signs. In-house newsletters. Grassroots programs. Social media posts and videos. Talk radio. Bus wraps. Full-page ads in The New York Times.

It then went on for another few pages about the client, its challenges and the usual stuff.

Then came time for the creative—the marketing concepts this agency was proposing. This is the part my friend wanted my opinion on, and I was happy to give it. I spend most of my days coming up with, critiquing or refining ideas. I love them. I adore concepts. It’s easy to get me excited about them, and I was eager to see and enjoy what these guys cooked up.

Then I saw the work… and all my anticipation and excitement promptly flat lined. The agency showed a series of three to four concepts with layouts so dull, and headlines so lame, I found myself embarrassed for them, even sitting there by myself, in the living room, on a rainy afternoon.

But the worst part—the sadder part, really—was what they did next. They took their bad ideas, and went Photoshop berserk with them… plastering them on T-shirts, slapping them on mall kiosks, braying them down on floors as decals, going big (and bad) with them on billboards. It was an acute infection of third-rate ideas spreading across the pages like a pandemic.

As I read on in disbelief, I became acutely aware of the gross imbalance happening here. This presentation is all about execution, not about ideas, I thought. The agency that labored over this deck—well meaning, mind you—had put the bulk of their time into carrying out sucky ideas. They should have spent their time coming up with better concepts.

I think this happens a lot in marketing. I’ve skated close to the wall of this rink myself. You can easily get caught up in seeing how something could play out, and you burn most of your creative fuel there. It’s especially easy these days, when dispatching a message to the masses can be done in seconds.

The thing is, if the initial idea isn’t good or doesn’t connect with your audience, you can plaster the world with it—it won’t matter. Your effort will vanish like a shadow in the night in your audience’s info-saturated world. Or worse yet, it will leave a bad taste in their mouth.

Don’t get me wrong. I think being creative in execution is a fabulous way to get noticed. We’ve all seen really cool displays in stores… admired musicians who play with unprecedented skill… or were captivated by a television show with a unique production aesthetic. But we’ve also seen movies where the special effects are breathtaking, but the plot is predictable or even forgettable. After a while, the special effects just fall short.

The irony of it all? Think of all the videos, posts, images, slideshows and emails that have gone viral, or that you’ve shared with others. The reason they get passed around is because they’re good… clever… funny… moving… thoughtful… breathtaking. In other words, the IDEA IS THERE.

Then, if you manage to carry out a killer idea in an awesome way… well, that’s when true magic happens.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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