When is Good Enough, Good Enough?
I recently went to the VCU BrandCenter for a Board meeting – what amazing energy and creativity; I’ve never come away uninspired! I have many conversations with the students (usually a big source of said inspiration). This time around, one of the students (a first year creative technologist) was telling me why he has a turntable and listens to music on vinyl. Such a novel thought, since he probably wasn’t born when vinyl was the primary delivery system for music, but he prefers the whole experience, including the superior audio quality imparted by vinyl and the types of music only available on albums. (BTW, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his way of saying, “look how fashionably retro I am old dude.”
It got me thinking of the first time that I moved from listing to albums through a tube amplifier to CDs—something seemed different about the sound, but it was really clean, convenient and cool. Now even the idea of a CD seems old-fashioned – we’re so used to mp3s, with their ultra-convenience, portability and unbelievable ease of access to content. But all of us who know even a wee bit about audio technology know that we are giving up fidelity a little bit at a time with each generation of digital high compression. Sound reproduction just isn’t the same, even with the far superior headsets we now blast.
The purpose of pointing this out isn’t for readers to start rolling their eyes about what a Luddite I am, or to think that I could start an anti “i” revolt—don’t worry, I too am a firm believer that “i” stands for “ingenious,” “innovation,” and now, “institutional.” And I’m also practical about the tradeoff of convenience of technology and ease of access to mostly indiscernible quality to most of the music consuming public.
My reason for bringing this up is this overall impression that in the wider world people are starting to believe that good enough is, well, good enough. So I turned my mind to the struggles in advertising today, in particular to new business practices and the friction between many purchasing-minded clients and the creatives. As discussions become based more on bean counting, rather that creativity and quality, the fear is that “good enough” will prevail.
Good enough in our business happens when people stop using the full potential of their creative partners because there isn’t time or money to fully explore the creative solutions. Good enough happens when buyers stop fostering and valuing the full process and look for shortcut solutions.
We are in an industry of artists and craftspeople, not technicians, who always strive for perfection, and who think all aspects of even the most mundane assignment has artistic merit. We will spend hours lighting a bottle of liquid just right to make the shot that much more appealing – because we believe that the smallest details matter and make the end result stand out.
As we move into a world where more of our end product is consumed on smaller, handheld-screens, and not on a “big screen,” and marketers are obsessed with quantity of video product, adapting to a “good enough” philosophy seems to be a very tempting order of the day – after all, it allows for cranking out more material for the endless emerging pipelines more quickly and less expensively.
I am here to remind you that not only is good enough NOT good enough—it’s penny wise and pound foolish. We see over and over again that well crafted communications not only stand out and garner attention, they also get earned media payoffs that only the pilot of South Park ever enjoyed in an analogue world – only exponentially (YouTube alone has 2.5 billion views a day).
Clients are the first to laud viral successes and boast of “free media,” pointing to YouTube hits as a benchmark for “consumer engagement.” But here is the rub: They can’t have it both ways. They cannot institute cost controls that constrain the process by dealing with the creative product as a manufactured commodity and then expect that people will apply the level of detail and attention that will make for a truly well crafted, exceptional creative product worthy of such attention.
Success will never be measured with incremental cost control, but in making sure that the end communication – which is the result of a long line of collaborative research/development, great thinking and superb craftsmanship – isn’t good enough, but is truly outstanding.