November 17, 2014

The Dim Client Syndrome

One of the most dispiriting aspects of my life as an agency ceative director was working with dim clients.

These people are to be found all over corporate America. 

They're not stupid - they often have business degrees from prestigious institutions - but they have no creative sensibility. They can't recognize a good idea and they fall in love with bad ones.

They should never be allowed to make creative decisions but because they have a title, they also have an entitlement.

The problem usually starts with the strategy. Somehow, the arcane process of strategy development delivers to you a brief that is just awful. I remember one in particular. 

We were introducing a new fresh pineapple product for Dole Foods. After months of consumer research and analysis I was handed a brief with the following strategic insight: "Dole fresh cut pineapple is better because it's fresh."

It took half a dozen MBAs about three months to come up with that tautology. A mildly intelligent 11-year-old could have probably thought of it over lunch.

Then the creative process begins. Within the first few days you realize that there are about a thousand better ways to approach advertising for this product but you are locked into a deadly strategy that is non-negotiable because apparently it was written by God.

So you do the best you can and a few weeks later you present a few ideas and the client goes ga-ga over one of them. You're a genius. You get back slaps and glowing memos. You cracked it. You're a hero!

And in your heart you know it's a piece of shit.


Ray said...

Simple solution: don't present shit. Present only the best concepts, not 3 or 4 because chances are, client will choose the turd in the lot. Only show what makes you proud. You're in control.

KHJ said...

Half the time you have to do a reverse brief and brief them back what they should have briefed you in the first place.

They usually realise how much better it is and just go with that. This situation then becomes quite surreal, because you have actually just briefed yourself and can't really hold the client up to it with the same responsibility.

If the campaign bombs even after using every ounce of your skill-set to make it work it's 100% your fault with fire and brimstone.
It's safer to go with the shitty brief given to you, answer it fully with your eyes shut and then present results in a way that make you look great while alluding to the inevitability of the failed campaign from the get go.

Without insulting the client, they think you did a great job under the shitty circumstances and you then await the next shitty brief. Sometimes it's even the same brief as last year with the date changed at the top.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

Dim clients are table stakes. What you need is brave strategy. If you can get that, the creative opportunity improves. If you don't get brave strategy, you get tired tropes and also-ran thinking.

Blaming the client for choosing bad creative is like blaming the weatherman for reporting bad weather.

LeShann said...

Having worked as a strategist on both media and creative sides, I am coming to the following conclusions:
- we (strategists) try too hard to be the creative in the room. Brainstorming hand in hand with your creatives is one thing, but the process seems to be more about who tells the other what he has to do and passing the relay (brief) before lunch.
- creative strategy should be spending a lot more time understanding what the core distinctive assets of the brand are (or could be), and how they can be scaled/played with. This is something our entire industry has forgotten in exchange for a few "shares", and costs billions of dollars to brands who just don't respect the basics.
- both strategists and creatives need strong account leads, here to sell their vision, not the client's.

Shanghai61 said...

Heard a lovely story today about an ex-client of
mine who took 15 months to make a new commercial.

Six months arguing and fiddling with the words in the strategy. Another six months to approve a script (version 100+) and then another three months to shoot and mess about with edits and more script changes at final production stage.

This took so long that the product was replaced by a newer model (on schedule) and the ad was scrapped before it ever ran.

Neil Godfrey once said he though it might be better if clients didn't see their advertising until it ran, just like their customers.

He may have a point ...

Stephen Eichenbaum said...

You forgot a step. A big one. After you present the ideas, the client latches onto one of them. But not before putting their own piss stain all over it, thus rendering an idea you weren't thrilled about into a monumental pice of shit, which won't work. Whereupon, the client will insist it was YOUR idea and fire you.

Eccles9 said...

Been there, got the tee shirt...

Matt L. said...

It's probably just me, as usual, but a fresh cut pineapple doesn't mean the pineapple was fresh when it was cut. A three week old pineapple can have a thousand cuts and the last could be described as fresh. And define fresh. Fresh off the tree? Fresh off the air conditioned truck? Fresh off the not so air conditioned truck? Seems like these folks were mesmerized by the cyclical logic and poeticism commonly found in a tenth grade creative writing classroom.
But what do I know about fresh? Most everything I drink these days is fermented.