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Dear CMO: A large part of the dust storm has settled at this point over the now infamous Aqua Teen Hunger Force case study in how not to execute a campaign and wow your client. I won't rehash the facts of the case, which are all-too-well-known at this point. The point of introspection is this: being clever isn't the point -- being smart is....


As mentioned over at Note to CMO getting yourself out of a mess is never easy, fun, or taken for granted. If you screw up, I think we can all agree that four things should top your to-do list:
1. Acknowledge that you screwed up.
2. Apologize. Mean it. You can use a bit of humor, you can be yourself, but admit you ruffled feathers a bit and be a genuine, contrite guy about it.
3. Fix the problem.
4. Communicate how well the fix worked after the initial 'shock and awe' of your screw up has died down.
We can equally agree, I hope, that becoming an instant comedian and doing a poorly conceived stand up routine outside of the courthouse would be a poor choice. Similarly, you might refrain from making fun of the police, the fire department, various public officials, or other encarnations of "the man" who have superior leverage over you, your boss, your shareholders, or your public.
You, as a marketing professional -- either as a brand marketer or as an agency -- have a responsibility to your stakeholders. You are paid to make good business decisions that not only produce positive financial results for your comany but also create positive feelings about your brand in your market. The wheels fell off this particular program not because the idea was bad -- we can debate that another time -- but because no one, from the agency to the client, thought through what might go wrong. No one wondered whether a device with a power supply, a circuit board, and a duct-tape wrapped volume of stuff might be misconstrued as an explosive, for example. I guess proper project management wasn't edgy enough. And now, people are paying with their jobs.
* * *
Key Takeaways:
> When you, as the brand, sign your name to an agency's work order authorizing them to do work for you and get paid to do it, you are responsible. Do something stupid and expect to get a sharp reprimand. Do something inexplicably stupid and expect to get fired.
> If you're an agency, you are being hired to not only come up with very clever ways to break through the messaging clutter in the market, but to think through things that your client wouldn't or couldn't or shouldn't know. You're paid to know stuff. How to get things done right. You're not paid to do half a job -- like coming up with a clever idea that looks like a bomb, for example.
> And by all means, if you screw up, return to "smart" as quickly as possible. If you screw up, tell the cameras that you thought this was a very clever idea to break through the intense advertising clutter, and -- gosh -- you really didn't connect the dots that a power supply connected to a circuit board with a blob on the back wrapped in duct tape might look like a bomb. Offer to buy new bullet proof vests for the guys on the PD, do some pro bono ad work for their Boosters Club, and APOLOGIZE FOR THE TROUBLE. Was I shouting? Sorry.
* * *
We've probably heard the last of this episode at this point. Frankly, it would have disappeared fairly quickly from the national stage had the two "creatives" not gone on TV and made complete fools of themselves. Turner, belatedly, is now talking about how many hundreds of thousands of dollars they're going to hand over and what damange control they can do. A bit late, but the right move.
A cautionary tale? Oh, yes, definately. Ask "what can go wrong" next time. And if you screw up, return to smart as quickly as possible.
Regards.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Stephen Denny

I've spent twenty years connecting brands to the wants & needs of technology users, as a consultant and as a front line executive managing the people, strategy and budgets at brand name companies like Sony, Onstar, Iomega and Plantronics.

This generally means that I've spent a lot of time saying "no" to very charming people and defending very creative marketing ideas in front of people who don't always laugh at my jokes.

What else can I tell you? I've lived and worked in the US and Japan, hold multiple patents, have lectured at top graduate schools and industry forums, and have a Wharton MBA, the diploma for which is somewhere in my office.

My consulting business is focused on helping consumer technology companies nail their branding so they get through the ambient noise in the market, as well as guiding them in how to win in the trenches of the channel, where all business battles are won or lost.

What you see on my blog, StephenDenny.com, is what I've netted out of the conversations I get to have with lots of smart people. Drop in and comment at your convenience ~!