once upon a time, we failed beautifully

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

Once upon a time, one of my creative teams came up with a campaign that sold service by telling fairy tales. Long copy. Character development. Trolls under bridges. All that. It seemed wrong for the category. It didn't obviously pay off the strategy. It took a while to sink in. We loved it.

We tried to sell it by simply asking our clients if they liked to read good stories. We presented the campaign in book form and passed out milk and cookies. We even proposed creating :15 trailers that lead to a YouTube page full of bad service/good service tales. And, as a last resort, we proposed running it as a test just to see if it caught on.

We didn't sell that campaign. And I can't forget it.

Christopher Butler over at Newfangled made a great point in a post he wrote about storytelling online.

...somehow, the concept of storytelling doesn't seem to have worked its way down from the worldwide mega-brands to the next tier of businesses in which you and I work. But why shouldn't it? After all, we're endeavoring to speak to the very same people they are?

Everyone likes a good story (and Butler points to Harry Potter books as proof that we actually prefer long stories). We all talk about telling stories. It seems obvious. So why didn't the campaign sell? Like Butler said, storytelling isn't news in our industry. And my friends over at the Makin' Ads blog make the case that storytelling is expected—that every good ad should have elements of storytelling in it (concrete, unexpected and emotional messages). Storytelling sells. It's appreciated and even expected. So why didn't the client buy our stories?



Scott Belsky gave me a hint. In his book, Making Ideas Happen, he talks about a storytelling workshop he attended where the participants were asked to give positive feedback only. By enhancing what works, the strengths are stronger and the weaknesses fall away. But we're all conditioned to point out weaknesses first. We even make rules that become crutches to help us dismiss work. (Nobody reads long copy anymore.) Belsky says it's actually harder to give affirmative feedback than to dish out criticism. And when you're presenting to five people and two of them voice negative opinions, rarely does anyone challenge those opinions with positive feedback.

That's what happened to our campaign. It was dismissed fairly quickly and no amount of chocolate chip cookies could save it.

But it was a beautiful failure. We failed better that day than we had in months. Let's do more of that. It makes a better story, doesn't it?