Take a look around and you will see success stories everywhere; from Jack Ma, to local start-ups, CEOs and businessmen. Everyone is excelling at everything they do. It’s almost as though we live in a Utopia.
To me, this is a dangerous trend, as it sends out the wrong messages. I remember when the video game Angry Birds came upon the scene and caught on like wildfire. The experts then created a graph to show that Rovio had succeeded with their 51st game. This seemingly unimportant fact was turned into a philosophy to encourage people in gaming to persevere and literally fail 50 times because (you guessed it) their 51st game would be a resounding success and they would become millionaires.
Another dangerous idea is that there is a certain age by which you will make it as an entrepreneur (people like Jack Ma feature on this list). We exist very much in the cult of hero worship and ego stroking. People often try to flatter or genuinely praise me by calling me a marketing guru or expert. To be honest, I dismiss these pretentious titles. I know my worth and I am no expert or thought leader and my body of practical work is paltry to be frank. Yes, I have amazing ideas and I refuse to accept the status quo, but I’m no role model. However, I can teach people something, not through my limited successes if any, but through one of my most brilliant failures. I remember when Martin Lindstrom came to Pakistan (in 2008, I think), he had told his audience that Johnson’s Baby Powder contains vanillin, the main ingredient in mother’s milk – and that due to this primeval or latent association, even adults when smelling Johnson’s Baby Powder, recalled their infancy.
I got to thinking and had an inspired idea. I was the media planner on the Johnson & Johnson account and it struck me that we should develop a scented print ad that would add another sensory dimension to our print advertising. The idea seemed excellent and I was excited. I was all set to change the world of Pakistani advertising (if not the whole world). However, when I discussed the idea with my colleagues, although they were initially enthusiastic, later obstacles arose. When I asked our print team about the cost of the paper, I was informed it would be very expensive. Other colleagues began to express reservations. In the end, I blame myself for not having taken the idea to the account management team, let alone to the client.
"Don’t look for shortcuts in creativity. It cannot be a goal; it has to be something you practise and practise until you get better and better."
Anyone who works in an agency is aware that before you even get to the client, you have to sell your idea to the account management team, and more often than not, great ideas are shot down by them and you have to go back to the drawing board. In our profession, clients get a bad rep for not commissioning great creative work. This kind of blame game is at the very least inaccurate and at worst, dishonest. It is usually the agency internally that scraps innovative and creative ideas.
Someone did eventually come up with a scented print ad for Johnson & Johnson and it was executed in India. Unfortunately, I was not the person who executed this idea. Sadly, I lacked the conviction to materialise my idea.
As we try to generate shortcuts to success and devise formulas for it, there is a lesson to be learned from my failure. Creativity or innovation is made up of one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration. When you put in the 99%, luck can fall into place in the equation. I am convinced the formula we are all looking for is that simple. We cannot excel at creativity without putting in the hard work. My favourite example of an epic creative campaign based on hard work and perseverance is the Old Spice ad: “The man your man can smell like”.
I hope you will learn from my failure. Don’t look for shortcuts in creativity. It cannot be a goal; it has to be something you practise and practise until you get better and better. Like any skill, it is one that needs development and a lot of hard work and a conducive environment. If we create this in our agencies, we will grow and eventually become world-class.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org