The Fine Line Between Hero And Stupid

When creativity goes amok

I’ve had this picture in my cabinet for years.  But needed to dig it out this past week to share with my old roommate.  It always makes me laugh.  (For the record my wife is a lousy seamstress and she would never stitch on my superhero outfit.)  It really got me thinking that those of us who are in a creative field live in a fine line between being a hero, or just plain stupid.

With my last name “Kent” I was the subject of many Clark Kent references throughout my life. While I was never faster than a speeding bullet, or more powerful than a steaming locomotive – there was one time I was able to leap a tall building (although it was a building my kid made out of Legos, and it really wasn’t that tall.)

The thing is, when you are involved in marketing, you are on a constant quest to find the right theme, the right words, the right visuals to make your client stand out.  Your goal is to trigger the consumer’s brain to remember your client or their product.  So as a result you will try to push the envelope.  You often hear that you’ll never be a success in marketing unless you make your client sweat a little.  You make them uncomfortable.

That comfort distress could be in how much of their budget they devote to advertising or it could be in the creative of the message.  Or it could be both.

There are loads of times in my 40-year career in marketing, news and public relations that I felt totally justified to slip into my superhero uniform and have the wind whip my cape.  There were probably more times in that career when I would have been stitching “Stupid” on my own uniform.

I think that goes with our territory.  

In northern Michigan there are loads of examples of really good advertising and really bad advertising.  

Typically when you see talking dogs in local ads, they are examples of bad commercials.  Just because you can make dogs talk, doesn’t mean you should make your dog talk.  In fact most local attempts to use humor in their advertising will almost always fall flat.  Putting humor into radio and TV scripts is an extremely difficult task.  In a previous blog I mentioned the creative and humorous billboard ads of Maxbauer’s Meats.  They understand how to use humor.

I’m not immune to creating bad ads that totally fell flat.  Back when I was doing Saturn TV ads I tried using humor and the ads got pulled shortly after they ran.  They were pulled for a good reason.  The ads fit the category of being just plain stupid.  I spent a lot of time looking for the ads to show you, but I fear they found their way to a trashcan that should never be found.

There are plenty of truly outstanding local ads that are on radio and television.  Hopefully I’ve been responsible for some of them. But I’ve always been impressed with most of the ads for McLaren Hospital.   They are beautifully shot with a clear message.

While working with Big Brothers Big Sisters I created an ad using John Cueter from Fox Motors and Bill Marsh Jr. from the Bill Marsh auto group.

Neither Bill nor John, were comfortable with this ad.  Both challenged me right up to the time we had the camera in their face. Yet the final product was effective and worked to get the message out about the bowling event.  We used that spot for many years. Every year we got great response.

It has become easier for local advertisers to use special effects in their commercials. I’ve been known to drop cars from the sky, have the cars flip over and fall into the earth and come out of the earth.

But the special effects should not tell the whole story. They can be eye-catching, but you still need to make sure the effects help relay the key message and don’t get in the way of the message.

Back in 2006 I won three national Telly Awards for spots that I wrote and produced.  Each was visually interesting and effective. But by today’s standards, none of these would be in contention for an award.  When you push the envelope, the envelope continues to change.  While the envelope will change, our job remains the same. We need to be story tellers. Discover the story we need to tell and make it interesting for the public.

I would not be so brazen to say that my work would ever put me in the advertising hall of fame. But I would say that my work reflects my clients very well along with the needs of my clients.  I won’t be putting on my superhero cape any time soon, but I also won’t be hauling out my sewing kit and sewing  “Stupid” on my uniform. 

Be bold when you can. Push the envelope when you can. But at the same time, realize there will be mistakes.  Pull those mistakes as quickly as possible.  But don’t hesitate to push the boundaries another time. There is a fine line between genius and insanity.  Perhaps the next time you’ll discover genius.

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