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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Luke Sullivan: The Enemies Of Advertising, #2: The Koncept Krusher 2000

Luke Sullivan: The Enemies Of Advertising, #2: The Koncept Krusher 2000

Posted on March 4, 2008 and read 1,995 times

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ihaveanidea is pleased to present the third in a series of updates and excerpts from Luke Sullivan’s third edition of his renowned book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. To order your copy today, click here. It makes an excellent gift for St. Patrick’s Day, the Vernal Equinox, or any other celebration this month.

This actually happened.

After several weeks of work, we finished a campaign for a large account and presented it to the client. They approved it, “pending research.”

The account guys sent the boards to an advertising research firm retained by the client. A week later, the results came back. We’d scored okay with the traditional focus group tests. But we’d failed the “Andrea” test and had to start all over.

“What is the ‘Andrea’ test?” I asked the client.

With a straight face, she said, “Well, the thing is, we give your storyboards to a guy there at the research place. And he and another guy, they take it into a room and they close the door and then come out about, oh, three hours later with the results. And we know if your spot works. Yours didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“But what did they do in there?”

“The research firm tells us that’s proprietary.”

“Pro . . . can I talk to this ‘Andrea’?”

“‘Andrea’ is just the name for the test. There is no Andrea and the methodology is proprietary, as I’ve said. They don’t have to tell us what they do in there. The results they come out with always seem to be right on the money.”

I stood there, blinking. The client, I’m sure, thought I was trying to think of some counterargument. But what I was thinking about was social work. (“I like people. I could help someone, maybe a little kid. It would be nice to get away. Peru or something. Maybe a little shack. Wouldn’t be so bad.”)

I came to in the cab on the way to the airport, holding a fat spiral notebook full of all the things wrong with my ads, courtesy of “Andrea.”

Clients who rely on test results to approve work will always be with us. There’s no escaping it. That’s the good news. The bad news is, with some clients, research will kill all of your work all the time.

A few large corporations have whole floors devoted to advertising-slash-research, and they have it down to a system. They feed your storyboards into one end of a process that’s very much like a machine, with a name like, I don’t know, “Koncept Krusher 2000.” As your campaign goes through the device, you hear all kinds of nasty things happening . . . (“It’s negative!” Muffled sounds. “We can’t say that.” Unidentified thwacking noise. “Why can’t they all be happy?”) . . . and what comes out the other end you wouldn’t want to air on a clothesline, much less network television.

The really bad news is that there isn’t a thing you can do about it. Once these huge research machines are in place, they’re usually there to stay. Somebody somewhere is making a lot of money off this research (and it isn’t the client). No good idea will ever get out alive. Generally, it’s the older, larger clients who’ve been advertising for years that have an overheated K/K 2000 down in the basement, running day and night.

I worked for several clients like this, where I think I did some of the best work of my career. But you’ve never seen it. On one particularly baneful project I remember, the Krusher must’ve been set on “high” because it went through hundreds, literally hundreds, of storyboards.

After I burned out on the project, the agency threw other people at the snapping jaws of the research machine. And then another team. And another. A full year later, the Krusher spit out this tepid little storyboard that both research and the client had approved.

There on the conveyer belt lay the TV spot—a trembling, pathetic thing that did not like being looked at directly. A sort of marketing Frankenstein—chunks of different departmental agendas and mandates, all sewn together by focus groups and researchers into something that looked like a TV spot but was, in fact, an abomination. We should have hammered a spike through its heart right there.

Koncept Krushers can be bigger machines than just a client’s research department. The whole company may, in fact, be structured to blowtorch new ideas. This sounds cynical, I know, but I’ve seen it. I’ve stood right next to these furnaces myself and felt the licking of the flames.

Try this on.

The client in question was one of those Sisyphus accounts I described earlier. A big Fortune 500 company. Huge. The kind that asks for tons of stuff that’s always due the next morning and you find out later it’s for a product they’re thinking about introducing 10 years from now.

So, anyway, this poor art director is stuck on a Sisy ¬Corp type of account. She doesn’t know this, so the day she gets a job for a big TV commercial, she’s excited, right?

Well, she and her partner begin working on it. After a vast amount of work, they have a couple cool ideas. I mean some really smart things that also happen to be potential award winners (or “podium wobblers,” as they’re called in Britain).

Cut to next scene, meeting number 1 with the client—all of their ideas are dead. The reason? Doesn’t matter. (You’ll see.)

So they get to work on another series of ideas to present in meeting number 2. Days later, there’s excitement in the creative department, rejuvenation. “We’ve done it again!”

Time wipe: It’s meeting number 3. The client opens the meeting by announcing they’ve changed the strategy.

Okay, here’s where we cut to that movie cliché—the clock hands spinning ’round and ’round, the calendar pages flying off the wall. The changes keep coming in. The client ¬doesn’t like the idea. Or they cut the budget. Or they change the product, or they change the strategy. One time it’s the client himself who’s changed—fired, actually—and now there’s a new client who wants something totally different. Whatever it is, it’s always something.

It gets worse.

During meeting number 4 through number 63, the campaign is watered down, softened, and diluted so much that the final commercial is precisely as interesting as a bag of hair. The last interesting thing in the commercial is successfully removed in meeting number 63. An optimist might say that things should have gone smoothly from here on out. (“For cryin’ out loud. It’s a bag of hair! What’s to complain about?”) But there are no optimists in advertising.

It’s Friday. The scheduled day of meeting number 64.

Meeting number 64 isn’t even a very important meeting, given that the CEO signed off back around meeting number 50 or so. But there needed to be a few dozen more “For Your Information” sort of presentations, and if any of them went badly the agency would have to start over.

The meeting begins. The art director goes through the old moves, trying to remember the fun of presenting it the first time. But there’s no spark left. She just . . . presents it.

The client sits there. Says nothing at first.

The client then reaches down into her purse and pulls out a small Kermit the Frog doll. (This really happened.) It’s one of those flexible dolls, and she begins bending the frog’s arms around so that its hands are covering its ears. Then the client says: “Mr. Froggy ¬doesn’t like some of the things he’s hearing.”

This really happened.

The client actually said, “Mr. Froggy ¬doesn’t like some of the things he’s hearing”.

Let me put it this way. There are two kinds of hell. There’s “Original” and then there’s “Extra Crispy.” This was Extra Crispy.

Well, Ms. Froggy-¬Lady, as she came to be known, wasn’t able to kill the commercial, only make it a little worse—a feat in itself. And so, finally, in meeting number 68, the whole company had signed off on this one storyboard.

All in all, it took 68 presentations to hundreds of MBAs in dozens of sweaty presentation rooms. In fact, there were some sarcastic agency memos to the media department suggesting that since the commercial had been shown to thousands of people already, there may not be a need to air it at all.

The creative team went back to the agency, opened two beers, and sat looking at the sunset through the windows of their offices on the 30th floor. There, over the body of the original storyboard that lay on the floor, they performed an advertising postmortem, discussing the more shocking moments of its horrifying death.

Eavesdropping, a casual listener might have thought the two had just come out of the theater and were talking about a horror movie. (“Yeah! And remember that really scary part where they put that awful . . . ‘thing’ on the overhead projector? Man, I did not see that coming at all.”)

That’s when they noticed something out their window—something disturbing.
Outside their window was a 40-¬story building.

The thing is, the 40-¬story building ¬wasn’t there the day they began working on the commercial.

With horror, the creative team realized that a building had been raised, built from a 30-¬foot-¬deep hole in the ground and 40 stories into the sky, faster than their little 12-frame storyboard had been destroyed and approved.

Why do I tell you this? To chase you away from the business?

No, to steel you for it.

This stuff happens all the time. And keep in mind, none of these clients were stupid people. (Well, we can discuss Froggy-¬Lady later.) They were all pretty sharp businesspeople, trying as hard as they could to solve a problem for their brand. But as smart and nice as they all were individually, a calcified approval process had crept into the company’s structure, and it became completely impossible to get a decent idea out the door.

This happens all the time. Be ready.

Luke Sullivan
Creative Group Head
GSD&M Idea City




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