When Good Isn’t Good Enough

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I recently had a client say something very disturbing to me at the end of a creative review. He mentioned that he loved a specific idea that we had just presented. It was new, innovative and impactful. But then he said the following ‘my fear is that it won’t live past testing.’


If the work is connecting with the audience, is creating the type of behavior we desire and is differentiating in the category (and industry), why would it not live past research? His response: ‘people like what they’ve seen before, safe, easy to accept and non-confrontational.’ In short – work that’s good, yet comfortable.

I didn’t get in to advertising to do comfortable work.

The story I told him about another campaign is 100% true. I will leave out the names of the players – but I swear this is exactly how this played out.

The year was 2001. I was working on a large national business. We tested three campaigns all over the nation. Qual. Quant. Big cities. Small cities. I presented storyboards, animatics and scripts. After the research was over, it was clear there were two campaigns that could be produced and would do well in the marketplace. But with all research, there had to be one winner.

The research company recommended campaign A. The reasons were simple; people really liked it. It was consistently at the top in rank order of the campaigns. It was fun, easy to remember and said great things about the company and product. People felt it was ‘confident’ and ‘gutsy.’ Exactly what you want a campaign to be. As an agency, we did our homework and knew that we could create endless executions and that it would work across all audiences.

But campaign B also had good points. People couldn’t get it out of their head. It was sticky. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. But everyone remembered it. And the best part about it, people wanted to see more executions. But it also had some issues. People said that it only worked with a lot of executions. They would get tired of the individual executions quickly – which meant it would be costly to produce and maintain.

So the research company’s vote was solidly behind campaign A.

Where it got tricky was that the CMO and I both believed in campaign B. It was a bigger idea. I could be rolled out for years. And the best part, it differentiated the company from its competition better than campaign A.

So when we brought both campaigns to the CEO of the company, we recommended campaign B – even though the research said to produce the other work.

The CEO completely agreed.

In the meeting – the CMO said something that I will never forget, and I repeat time and time again. He said, “Research is only one data point. Our experience is a data point. Our common sense is a data point. The experience of our agency is a data point. And they all are important. But research isn’t the only data point. And people who make all their decisions based 100% on research will eventually fail. Because they’ll accept a good idea while overlooking potentially a great idea.”

Campaign B ran for over 10 years. We produced over 100 TV commercials, print, out-of-home, events and radio. The tagline is engraved in bronze on the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue in New York City. It won countless awards. But most importantly, it proved to me that they only way to get to great – is not to settle for good.

Even when the data says that good is good enough.




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