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Welcome to Marketing

Insights  //   //  By Kim Canton

How to derail creative brilliance, one naysayer at a time.

How do you put a price tag on creativity?

That’s a question marketers often face, because whether it’s a tagline, a brand name, or even a logo design, the work that goes into the solution isn’t always apparent. What’s more, most clients aren’t actually interested in seeing the herculean effort it may have taken you to arrive at your brilliant idea — they just want to know that they will be able to demonstrate a healthy ROI to their stakeholders before attending to the next marketing fire burning up their desk.

Sometimes, though, you really wonder how creatives landed on a particular marketing strategy, especially when said strategy is mind-bogglingly stupid, ridiculously expensive, or — in the case of an infamous Tourism Scotland marketing gaffe — both.

In 2007, Scotland unveiled a £125,000 marketing campaign anchored by a fresh new slogan developed by some of the top creative talent in the country.

And the slogan was?

Wait for it . . .

Welcome to Scotland.

Now, we realize that the best slogans are not always the most clever or the most interesting. In fact, we can even go back to Scotland to illustrate exactly why. You see, the impetus behind the marketing effort that produced “Welcome to Scotland” was to replace a slogan the previous government had spearheaded, which advertised Scotland as “the best small country in the world.”

We’re going to give the Scots a break now, so we won’t psychoanalyze the inferiority complex that lurks just barely beneath the surface of this little gem, but it becomes clear that just because your slogan is clever, or has punning potential, or secretly delights you, or is unique — doesn’t make it a good slogan.

The best slogans are the slogans that do their intended job — they’re memorable, they showcase your offering in the best possible light, and they reflect the tone and character of your brand. Both Scotland slogans fail differently, but fail all the same.

We don’t need an official report to demonstrate that “Welcome to Scotland “failed,” but in fact there was one, which concluded that tourists didn’t even notice the slogan. We then researched to see if the slogan was still in use, but to be honest, it’s hard to tell. Is the appearance of “Welcome to Scotland” on evidence of the slogan’s unexpected longevity, or simply the very common usage of a very common greeting? (You decide.)

So how does this come to pass? How can there not be even one stakeholder who says, “hey, you know, I think we can do better.” How does an advertising agency who promises “bold ideas that work” pitch this? How does a politician unveil this with a straight face? (Actually, scratch that last question. Politicians have preternaturally straight faces).

We weren’t in the boardroom when this was greenlighted, so we can’t say for certain, but if we were to guess, the answer would be this: “decision by committee.” In fact, we’d be willing to bet that this was not the advertising agency’s first choice. (And indeed, when you look into the campaign more fully, you can see glimmers of what were probably earlier, more differentiated offerings that simply got folded into the generic “Welcome to Scotland,” and were then not executed particularly well.)

“Welcome to Scotland” happens when the wrong people are making the final decision, and it’s something that is surprisingly easy to happen. Without a strong creative leader directing the decision making process, it’s very easy for the best ideas to be thrown away by a single stray unchallenged comment. “We really don’t like green.” “My wife thinks that the tip of that ‘I’ looks like a vulgar gesture.”  “What if people don’t get it.” Or, our personal favourite, “But what about …”.

It’s not to say that feedback isn’t important, or that the only person qualified to give feedback is a marketing professional, but that all feedback has to be challenged with the same critical rigour with which it is delivered.

When everyone’s feedback is given the same credence, it means that good ideas get watered down, often until they are unassailable — and meaningless.

But sometimes, decision by committee is your only option. When you have to get sign-off from multiple stakeholders (not to mention legal and compliance), you have to be strategic. You need a person on your team who knows your brand well enough that they can speak for you, but has distance and perspective so they can see your offering the way your audience does — and can articulate that perspective effectively. You need to hire a marketing professional who isn’t afraid to contradict you. You need a well-defined process that shuts down last-minute creative hijackers — and a person willing and able to enforce it. And you need someone who can counter your boss’s “what aboutisms” with compelling assurisms.

What this gets to is personality. You can have the best creative minds at work on a project, but if they can’t sell it to the stakeholders, it doesn’t matter.

Or, on the other hand, you can hire the top advertising firm in the world, but if you’re the kind of client who always has to be right, you won’t get the best creative from the best minds.

It’s a balance, and it’s not always easy to get it right — but you’ll definitely know when it’s wrong.

Just ask Scotland.

Want to prevent a Welcome to Scotland of your own? Contact us. We have brilliant ideas and winning personalities.