The Art of the Spectacular Fail

Your Agency Should Be Kissing More Frogs

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Darryl Ohrt
Darryl Ohrt
Our industry is one of the most self-congratulatory industries short of Hollywood. There are award shows for every success in our industry, every market, every town, for every pixel that was ever touched by a creative person. There are top 10 lists, charts, and metrics galore that illustrate just what a big deal our agency's creations are.

Failure is what delivers us to this greatness. Yet most agencies don't celebrate failure. Or at least not to the degree that we should. We were having this discussion at our agency recently, and attempted to name our top failures for the year.

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We only came up with a handful of "fails" over the last 10 months. Some would say, "That's because we're successful," but I worry that we may be failing at failing. Here's our top three 2009 fails:

1. Friday Flakes. We believe in video, and attempted to launch a weekly Friday program highlighting the bright spots from the week on our blog. We found that the show didn't really offer much value outside of what already existed on the blog. FAIL.

2. Skype on the tour. Skype is hot. My wife commented, "Even Oprah uses it." So we figured it would be a natural on our road tour, and invited Plaid Nation viewers to "Skype the Flex." Almost 1 million page views later, less than 10 Skype calls. FAIL.

3. Donut Economy. As the economy was tanking big time earlier in the year, we thought it would be super funny to explore a world where the economy was based on donuts. Donut shops would replace the Federal Reserve. Policemen would be rich. We shot and edited a video. Hilarious, right? Not according to the lame video we produced. (It never made the light of day.) FAIL.

I really believe that as a small agency, we should have at least one great failure a month. Doing so ensures that we're pushing ourselves further, learning things that we didn't know before and becoming better creatives.

Segway, a client of ours, has a wonderful program that turns failure into success. Their product development group celebrates what's called "Frog Day." After a period of rapid prototyping, they award the team with the most spectacular failure a heavy iron frog. Eric Fleming, director of marketing, explains: "We call it 'frog kissing' under the premise that you have to kiss a lot of frogs in order to find a prince."

This enables the Segway team to say "don't go there" quickly, before precious time and money is spent chasing something that was destined to never work. The program has yielded several "princes" too, including the four wheel quad and Project P.U.M.A.

From here forward, our agency will be looking for one spectacular fail each and every month. Maybe we'll even celebrate them with cake. What about your firm? How many times have you failed spectacularly this year? Could you fail more?

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Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, the founder of creative agency Plaid and chief contributor to the greatest blog in all of the land, BrandFlakesForBreakfast. While his business card says he's "band manager" for the agency, Darryl prefers to call himself an internetologist. Darryl knows just enough to be dangerous. He's on the internet right now, playing, investigating and exploring. Watch out.

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