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Only DOUBT Reveals the Truth

Posted on January 24, 2011 and read 4,865 times

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paul Only DOUBT Reveals the TruthPaul Lavoie
Chairman and Founder




At TAXI our questions reveal truths that drive innovations.

I have always been a little wary of anything that points decisively and conclusively to one answer. Because our role as marketers is to connect with human beings in ways that inspire or educate, it seems wrong that any part of that process resemble shepherding lambs along a singular path into a corral.We should doubt any single answer, commonly accepted wisdom or the confines of prescribed process.

At first blush, a philosophy based on doubt can raise some eyebrows. It sounds so … well … doubtful. In fact, this approach has proven time and again to be 100 percent right by being 100 percent undefined.

In the ‘90s, I first learned the idea of fuzzy logic. Originally coined in the ‘60s by computer scientists confronted with the “on-off” limitations of computers, fuzzy logic solves problems more like the way humans do.

More recently, the study of neural networks has found widespread application in the quest to emulate human interaction. Why, for instance, do thousands of people streaming along Fifth Avenue dodge and weave around one another without incident?  Neural networks are similarly patterned on human behavior and can learn from mistakes.

The wonderful thing about these developments is the friction and spark created by humanity and technology rubbing up against each other. We have all read and repeated the fact of life that brands today are no longer fully in control of their reputations. The bloggers and tweeters are. Technology is enabling humans to do what they do – be unpredictable.

we love to celebrate three million hits to a website over a three-day period. But how about 100 million viewers in 30 seconds

The measure of our success has never been about being right; it has been about being relevant. Through “doubt” we have been able to ask: is the customer still looking where a six-month-old media plan told us they were looking? Have the social customs around a given subject changed in the last year or in the last week? This kind of thinking drives everything we do as marketers.
In San Francisco, for our client Blue Shield, we placed statues of naked people in public places where nearby interactive booths explained that they were uncovered — like the 6.7 million Californians without healthcare. The interactive booths encouraged the public to comment in video testimonials that were added to a website that was rich in information on this highly provocative issue.

Though seemingly out of character for a health insurance provider, Blue Shield is an advocate of universal healthcare and with this campaign generated huge public and political awareness. In addition to nearly $2m in editorial press coverage, the site generated more than 40,000 unique visitors, three percent of whom signed a petition asking state congressional lawmakers to make universal healthcare a priority.

In Montréal, for plan B we launched a “morning after” contraceptive by allowing women to share their “oops.” They could text messages to fill-in-the-blank on posters in bars, on campus and on billboards. Their text completed phrases like “The he didn’t pull out in time pill,” and “The not enough condoms for a foursome pill.” Phrases were culled on a website where thousands could vote on the best to be deployed. From there, 28 percent clicked through to the corporate site, and spent up to five minutes learning about emergency contraception. The ultimate result: a 19 percent lift in sales.

The measure of our success has never been about being right; it has been about being relevant.

In Toronto, Koodo launched a new wireless value brand. Aimed at youth, Koodo brought its quirky brand character to every media platform and branding opportunity, including call centrer response, packaging, mall kiosks, out of home, online, television, mobile games and more. The launch campaign was a parody of the ‘80s aerobics craze, featuring fitness enthusiasts decked out in fluorescent colors, urging consumers to “shed that cellular cellulite” with an offer that’s “suitable for cost-reduced diets.” YouTube parodies were posted in no time flat and hundreds applied to be the next “Koodocizer.” Lesson: techie is not always the way to sell technology. In fact, Koodo was the most successful wireless launch in Canada. Ever.

Each of these campaigns used “doubt” to increase relevance to its target. The results are proof of its power. And like Fuzzy Logic or Neural networks, evidence abounds of the positive outcomes of doubting conventions. In our recently published book we feature such stories chosen from events, products, and trends of our times and close to our lives. Call them the work of problem solvers, innovators, or creative thinkers — all are, in their own way, Disciples of Doubt, and each is hell-bent on their quest for a better way. Their ideas range from the “where the bleep did that come from?” variety to “duh, what took so long?” But my argument in favor of “doubt” goes one step further and raises another point: Sometimes we even have to doubt whether different is necessarily better.

The book is obliged by its title, DOUBT: Unconventional Wisdom From The World’s Greatest Shit Disturber and by the philosophy it supports, to be unexpected itself. Our own commitment to inspire creative thinking everywhere obliges a pedagogical approach. The result is that among the Disciples of Doubt the book features are twelve insights into “how to” use doubt as a catalyst for change. These insights are delivered by a cocky little character called DOUBT described as:
“Although he lives in a world where he is shunned by pop song lyricists, house cats, big-box shoppers, classic rock radio programmers, grandmothers, and all left-brain-thinking people, Doubt continues to throw dynamite at history and use his outlaw thinking to move us all forward. Some love him. Others hate him. But nobody ignores him.”

I have always been a little wary of anything that points decisively and conclusively to one answer

The “how to” of doubt, like scientific method, calls for suspending judgment, tireless research and even sometimes doubting whether different is necessarily better. In the marketing communications realm, many are eager to say that television is dead, and that digital is our only future. Certainly we love to celebrate three million hits to a website over a three-day period. But how about 100 million viewers in 30 seconds? Sometimes a spot during the Super Bowl is still the right thing to do on its own merit, and to seed an even broader-reaching digital dialogue.

We simply have a bigger buffet of media options. Consumers will pick and choose, and for some it will be all you can eat. Whatever media options we use, they all contribute to the two-way brand dialogue that has trumped the one-way brand monologue of yesteryear. It is our business to speak for brands, and it is consumers’ business to speak for their world. We both know our roles.

The kind of work that our role requires grows and changes, but the need for skill and talent does not. TWhat separates good from great is consistency. In order for a brand message to be clear and compelling time and time again, we have to know our business and know our craft. Human insight, emotion, storytelling – the stock and trade of our industry – is now coupled with an understanding of consumers’ behavior online to help us navigate the era of social networking. People don’t engage with things they don’t respect, and their authenticity sensors are finely tuned. Only doubt reveals truth.


Paul Lavoie is chairman and founder of TAXI. At the helm of TAXI’s integrated approach to creativity across seven offices in Canada, the U.S., and Europe, Paul’s credentials include:
Marketing magazine, in August 2008, named Lavoie one of the 10 most influential pioneers in Canadian marketing over the past century. In 2006, he was listed by Creativity magazine among the 50 most influential creative minds. That year, he also became the youngest inductee of the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends. In 2007, Paul received the Spiess award for lifetime achievement by the Bessies Awards. Paul is the President of The Art Directors Club Advisory Board, an ex-member of the Marketing Advisory Committee of the MoMA, a board member of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter and a member of the International Advisory Board of the
École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC – Montréal).

  • MilesD

    Re: Kodo paragraph “centrer” spelled wrong.

  • Tomorrow Awards

    Fixed. thanks.

  • Jay Thompson

    TWhat separates good from great is consistency.

    last paragraph

  • Tomorrow Awards

    Thanks, fixed.

  • Frederik Andersen

    Very good article.

    “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is inpenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”

    Albert Einstein




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