When ads go bad

So how do advertising campaigns fail? Was reminded today, as before, of how things really can go Pete Tong. If you’re honest, you look back and find that the only truly consistent factor in every less than spectacular success you’ve been involved with is… you. That’s how it always strikes me, anyway. And yet I like to think I’m pretty smart, and I work hard and feel lucky. So I cast around for some other explanation/s.

It strikes me that there are only 3 basic ways things go wrong. I’m talking about advertising campaigns here, but I guess the general principles extend to other activities like team sports, business management, cultural enterprises…

Getting too fancy

I’ve written before about the Law of Pete. It’s like the Law of Sod, only it’s not blind bad luck. It’s when people (esp. non-creative people) get caught up in the aesthetics of a project and overlook something fundamental.


The second is when ‘creative administrators’ (clients, account men, producers) snow you with tiny inconsequential changes.

Yes, it’s wearing. But that’s not what goes wrong. The sandstorm of alts – change this, change that, change it back – eddies around you in puffs of absurd over-logic and gusts of wild, indefensible subjectivity. And you know what? You lose your way. Your judgement fails. Your in-built guide to what is any good goes out the window. And it eats time, right up to and past the deadline. And you’re tired and ground down. And now you’re in a hurry, and it’s past the deadline, and the same people who dillied and dallied and shillied and shallied are now screaming for the work. And version control is out of control.

Suddenly, you’ve got a horse designed by committee: it’s a camel. Worse still, is it possible..? No, it can’t be… Yes, you’ve guessed it. There’s also a glaring error in the camel – like it’s got five legs or three humps…

And yet, should we be surprised that people are surprised when things ‘gang aft agley’? Depressed, yes. Surprised, no.

Last but not least. There is no groundwork, no back-up

This sounds a little bit like the Law of Pete – but it’s not. It’s something more serious.

Not making sure your product meets customer needs. Not making sure your product is completely competitive, and not making sure it offers customers a compelling benefit. Not checking that your sales channels are really primed and working.

Under those circumstances, the greatest game-plan, the biggest ideas and the clearest execution are not going to save you.