When Pigs Fly - Creative Ideas I’ll Never Do Again
EDITOR’S NOTE: This contest ended in 2003.
When I was a girl, my grandmother was a font of strange expressions.
For instance, I was shy and when I didn’t speak, Granny would ask, “Cat got your tongue?” We didn’t have a cat but my friend did and, being very literal-minded, I wondered if it would leap up and bite my tongue off.
Every now and then my dad would mull over some business problem and Granny would advise him to “take the bull by the horns.” Dad worked in New York City where, as far as I knew, there were no bulls, and if there were, I doubted very much he would ever take one by the horns.
My favorite grannyism involved the possibility of flying pigs: “The next time I have dinner for 17 people will be when pigs fly.” Or, “The next time I go to Wanamaker’s in December will be when pigs fly.”
I’d forgotten all this until I was in a toy store last weekend, and I saw a battery-operated flying plastic pig hanging from the ceiling and cruising around in circles. It was pink with white wings, and it was irresistible, so I bought it. I didn’t know what to do with it until this morning, when it occurred to me that it would be an unusual prize in a contest for Target Marketing readers.
We’re going to have a flying pig contest! Let’s start with creative ideas I will never do again—at least not until pigs fly. Send me your “when pigs fly” creative stories. The most compelling story will win the flying pig and get a write up in the next issue.
Runners-up will get a copy of my book, “Customers for Keeps.”
Here are a few of my never-agains to get you started. They’re all from former clients—back when I was in big agencies—and most of this stopped being a problem years ago.
Does timing matter? I once ran a four-color, full-page test ad in a San Francisco weekend newspaper magazine. The date, booked weeks in advance, happened to coincide with Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl was at nearby Stanford Stadium that year and the 49ers were in it.
Naturally, the city was in a frenzy and nobody paid any attention to the ad. We got maybe 30 orders and we’d expected about 300. Now I always check, and I’ll run a non-football ad on Super Bowl Sunday in the Super Bowl city again when pigs fly.
How do you define “exciting”? A financial client asked for a breakthrough campaign. Something different, radical. We gave it to him, and he blanched. “We can’t do that.”
A big bank will test a spot-on, but radical new direct mail campaign only when pigs fly. To a bank, the words “radical,” “new” and “breakthrough” don’t mean what they mean to the rest of us.
Request For Proposals (RFPs). Some proposals are terrific, while others seem specifically designed to terrorize agency people. Whenever I see one of the latter, I always say “no!”
Occasionally, I’ll relent and we all end up working overtime deciphering and then answering nonsense questions, trying to figure out what the client really wants, second-guessing ourselves on fees, and even being so dumb as to actually give them spec creative. Once, many years ago, a client didn’t give us the account, but actually ran our spec in a national magazine a month later!
Plan ahead? Direct marketing plans are critical to the success of a campaign. The process is hard work but, once you go through it, you’ll have a much better chance of doing very well.
Still, some people find the planning process a bore and want to get straight to the tactical stuff, the fun stuff—especially the creative—without understanding the background and without a hint of real world objectives or a strategy.
Tactical direct marketing programs make as much sense as building a house without a blueprint. It’s a crapshoot. It can be done, sometimes, but it won’t be pretty.
Look into the future. Have you ever been asked to predict the results of a test campaign? We used to get asked that all the time. “Isn’t 2 percent the norm?”
Well, no. It doesn’t work like that, you explain. We plan, develop an allowable cost-per-order, test, track, fine-tune, analyze, roll out cautiously and keep testing. Along the way, we learn what works and do more of it. We learn what doesn’t work and do less of it. And we all make a good deal of money.
“I don’t want to test. You’re the experts, why do you have to test?”
For starters, everything you do for the first time is a test, whether you call it a test or not. If the word test makes you unhappy, let’s call it a super-rollout. It’ll still be a test. And, if you show a program to two experts, you’ll get two opposing opinions. And opinions don’t matter a hoot. The only thing that matters is whether or not real people in the real world will send you money.
One expert opinion does matter, though: “Test.” Any expert who has another opinion isn’t an expert.
“The advertising people have some creative ideas for your direct mail campaign.” I’ve heard this maybe a hundred times. Will the advertising people sign off that they’re responsible for the results?
“We don’t need a letter. Just mail the brochure or a postcard.”
Your prospects have never heard of you. They have no idea what you stand for. They don’t care about you, your product or your company. And the most-read element, the most crucial, testable and cheapest-to-produce element in a direct mail package is the letter, and you don’t want one in your launch campaign?
Grandma’s when-pigs-fly strategy means she was going to say “no” the next time a wasteful activity appeared on the horizon. When you say no to something that can’t possibly pan out for you, you’re really opening up time to say yes to other things that are more productive and more profitable.
I can’t wait to hear your when-pigs-fly stories; send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in Florida. She is the author of “Response! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing.” Geller can be reached at email@example.com