Not Only Is Failure an Option, It's a Requirement

Fear -- Not Failure -- Is the Death of Creative

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
Michael Jordan's field goal percentage was 49.7.

Kobe Bryant's field goal percentage is 45.5.

Joe Montana's passing completion was 63.2.

Peyton Manning's passing completion is 64.4.

Ted Williams' batting average .344.

Albert Pujols' batting average .334.

The numbers speak for themselves. No one is successful 100% of the time. Heck, in the real world 50% seems to be a great rate for success.

Not in advertising.

We're expected to hit home runs every time or make every shot or complete every pass. Failure is not an option. Even worse, some of us promise home runs every time at bat.

Is that reasonable? Even more importantly, can we deliver on the promise?

Do clients hold themselves to the same standard they hold their agencies? Should they? Should we be holding ourselves to this standard?

In the last five years how many products or brands have failed or faded from existence? How many car models have been shelved? How many cell phone models pulled? How many stores have closed? How many items have been removed from shelves or menus? How many services have been revamped, modified or canceled?

The numbers are staggering. This year alone, America will lose four car brands. Four! I'm not talking about models but entire brands that will no longer exist.

What are you afraid of?

Failure is more than an option for advertising -- it's a necessity.

Failing means we're taking chances, trying new things, pushing to find new ways to engage consumers for our clients. Failing takes courage.

It's the "fear of failing" that cripples us, that makes us play it safe. Fear makes the work predictable and unsuccessful.

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about fear in the advertising industry, and I think it is right that we talk about fear. Fear is the death of creative. It's the great crippler of new and innovative ideas. It's the stealer of pioneering souls and the silencer of the unfamiliar.

Predictable work doesn't happen by accident, it is premeditated.

"What if the client doesn't like it?" or "It isn't what the client expected," or "It isn't what the client has been doing." We've heard the excuses before, and they are too numerous to list them all.

I am not saying that we blindly do things just for the sake of doing them or for being creative.

I'm concerned that our fear of failing is hurting both our clients and ourselves. Our industry is becoming an industry of followers instead of leaders because no one is willing to step up and take a chance.

Whether you love him or hate him or really don't care -- the responses to the departure of Alex Bogusky from Crispin should give us all pause.

Is he the only person doing work that takes us to the edge?

Is he the only one capable of leading an agency to challenge the status quo?

Is he the only one to recognize the power of thinking differently?

No, no and no!

Advertising has always been home to groups of people like Alex. Folks who were never content doing what everyone else was doing the same way they were doing it. There were times when folks like him weren't exceptions but the norm. I'm not talking about the '60s or the '70s. I'm talking about the '80s, '90s and the early 2000s. I'm talking about now.

The economy is no excuse for running scared. In fact, it is all the reason we need for being fearless. Come on folks, time to put on our big-boy and big-girl pants and step up to the challenges.

Maybe I'm too stupid to be afraid but I refuse to live in fear. Sure, there are folks out here with more "whatever" than me, but I don't believe you have the passion or talent to take me. And I know I am not the only one.

Our industry is still home to folks with a fire in their bellies to do great things. Folks who cannot stand being like everyone else. People driven to create things that no one else has thought of; problem solvers always looking for bigger and harder problems to solve -- folks looking for a fight.

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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