Feb 17, 2011

The "Respirator Idea"


One of the more frustrating things I’ve witnessed in my ad career (and one that I see repeated time and again from both agencies and brands) is what I call the “Respirator Idea.” It’s an idea that should have died because it no longer works in its current version, but it’s kept alive by people who have a vested interested in seeing something/anything get produced.

“Respirator Ideas” run the gamut from TV spots to websites to social media promotions and the one thing they all have in common is that you can tell that at some point they actually were good ideas.

But then the punch line got cut because it might have been offensive. The prize went from a two week Hawaiian vacation to two nights at the EconoLodge in Utica. Usability went from a site that did everything for you to “well, I’m sure they’ll be able to figure it out for themselves.”

It’s an unfortunate aspect of business in general: people rarely know when to pull the plug on something that was once a good idea. But it’s perhaps the most important skill anyone in marketing can have. Because someone’s got to be “the one.”

The one who says “No one is going to laugh at this.”
The one who says “No one is going to want to do this.”
The one who says “No one needs a site like this.”
The one who says “No one will post this to their Facebook page.”
And then actually step in and kill the project.

It rarely happens because of all the politics involved. All the small cuts along the way didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. And a very influential group of people are still in denial about what the “Respirator Idea” has become. In their minds eye, they see the original idea, not the corpse it’s become.

And so it’s risky to stand up to them and say “the Emperor has no clothes.” You’ll be accused of being a negativist. A bad team player. An obstacle. You’ll make people look foolish and they won’t like that.

But someone must stand up. Someone who is going to look foolish no matter which way the decision is made. Because if you make the decision to cut the cord, you’ll also look brave, not cowardly.

And in today’s business environment, that’s no small thing.



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