Will this mistake cost me my license to practice advertising?
I made a lot of mistakes when I was a creative director, but here’s one I’d gladly make again.
A new account came into the group and I assigned a project before we had the brand guidelines. The team came back with great ideas, which they then had to revise to fit the format.
The ideas still worked, but the process was inefficient and I heard about it.
However, the mistake also led to the best idea we ever had for the account. The brand guidelines said each communication had to center around a single big word. Once that went out to the group, teams came back with big words, not big ideas.
Hold that thought.
Earlier this year, a young friend showed me a proposal he’d received from a design firm. My friend had bootstrapped every aspect of his business, including marketing. Now ready to grow, he wanted a cohesive brand for his next trade show.
The proposal recommended using more than 2/3 of his modest budget to develop brand guidelines, the rest to design the booth. Nothing wrong with the proposal; that’s the way it’s done. And considering the designer’s talent, he was getting good value.
Then I remembered my mistake. And I worried for my friend that the branding process would lead to a beautifully designed trade show booth… lost in a sea of beautifully designed trade show booths.
My friend is not American Express. He doesn’t need a guidelines book to keep hundreds of designers and writers in line. He just needs consistency.
Here’s where I put my advertising practitioner license at risk.
I suggested that the branding portion of the budget would be better spent on a better trade show. Bigger posters. Bigger props. Better giveaways. If he worked with professionals, he’d get a solid design. He could then pick up the typefaces, colors and photo schemes from his booth, and use them everywhere else.
I put the cart before the horse. I built the house without a foundation. Pick any cliché and I recklessly drove right through it.
To pull it off, we had to come up with a broad range of ideas—lots of looks, feels, tones and manners. And yes, when my friend picked one, execution was a bitch. The logo had to “evolve” to work with the media. Another key design element had to be rethought when a salesperson said, “I don’t like the color green.”
If you look at my friend’s website and collateral today, you’ll never know that a trade show poster came first. You’ll never know that his trademarked tagline was created to drape a table.
More important, he’s not wondering how he let a little, below-the-line tactic drive his entire brand strategy. He’s too busy closing sales from his most successful trade show ever.
And I call myself a professional?