Avoiding Groupthink

Here’s a personal anecdote. Maybe you can learn something from it.

I once did work for a client that had very strict marketing guidelines. Most of them were very poorly thought out, in my opinion. All their print work had to include the following:

  • A key visual taken from the client library.
  • A frame on at least two sides of the key visual.
  • The frame had to be one of six pre-approved colors patterns.
  • Supporting copy in bullet points, just like these.

Very restrictive. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an ad with bullet pointed copy in an awards show. (If you know of one, I’d love to see how they pulled it off.)

Every time we went to the client, we’d bring in ads that adhered to their guidelines, and some better ones that didn’t.

They’d usually appreciate the more creative ones. But they’d always fall back on their guidelines, because they were, after all, guidelines. (Emerson has some words about this.)

It became apparent that no matter how brilliant the idea, we weren’t going to do any award-winning print for them. Realizing this was pretty crushing. And I spent the better part of a morning researching other agencies I might work for.

But then I realized that their guidelines only applied to print. No one had written guidelines for ambient media. Or webisodes. Or PR stunts. Or bus wraps. Or a ton of other media they probably hadn’t considered and might benefit from.

Sometimes even the best clients and the most creative creatives get trapped in their own Groupthink. Where everything is done a certain way because it just is.

And sometimes coming up with a big idea is figuring out a better way to come up with a big idea.


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