Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Second- (and third- and fourth- and fifth-) guessing the work

So as much as I can shoehorn improv theory into my corporate life, there are times my 9-5:45 world exists on a completely different plane.

Nowhere is that more true than in the Wonderful World of Focus Groups.

It doesn’t matter what we’re testing—products, services, marketing campaigns—the intent, from the very beginning, is to second guess. You create something, squeeze it through layers of internal approvals, polish it until you can see yourself through it, and throw it in front of 4-8 groups of 6-8 consumers, who go from friendly, well-meaning civilians to jaded, ersatz marketers in less than 2 hours.

I’m not saying it’s not helpful—focus groups are great for disaster-proofing. You don’t want to let consumers do the creative work (and not just for the sake of job security), but getting gut reactions from people who’ve never seen the work before can tell you what resonates and what absolutely, positively should never, ever be printed, produced or packaged.

Kinda makes you appreciate the whole improv = toilet paper thing.

No matter how brilliant—or how shitty—a show is, it’s over when it’s over. Yeah, you can peck it to death in notes, replay it in your head, or obsess over a video. But your creation—good, bad or mediocre—exists only in the moment. Once you’re finished, there’s no changing it.

In my grown-up life, I’ve only worked as a “creative”—first as a greeting card writer, then an editor, then a copywriter, editorial director and creative director. I don’t know what it’s like in other fields, but creative jobs require a whiplash-inducing combination of zeal and dispassion. You have to love an idea enough to champion it and be coldly analytical enough to kill it. Sometimes in the same meeting. Sometimes in the space of 5 minutes.

So it’s nice to have one place where an idea is gone before you have to make a decision about whether to love it or hate it.


  1. 1. +2 points for using ersatz
    2. -2 points for posting with such a tiny-ass font

    What happened between posts?

  2. It's funny that you wrote this, because we just had a meet and greet with our CFO last week, and he told a similar story concerning his first "axing" of a project at WDW.

    He was in a pitch for a new musical attraction based on Brother Bear (the movie). The entertainment and Imagineering people had been working on it prior to the movie's release, and spent 6 months on it. They pitched the show to him and other executives.

    When he was asked what he thought, he said it was wonderful, well done, but based on a movie that tanked. Why would we sink that kind of money into something based on a movie no one wanted to see.

    He said it really made him think how he just crushed 6 months of work, heart and soul that people had poured into it. But, he knew it was the right decision. As proof, he said if he hadn't said know, Animal Kingdom would have Brother Bear the Musical, and not Finding Nemo, The Musical (which is an award winning show).

  3. I changed the font size. Do I get my 2 points back?

  4. It's SO true about "loving" ideas enough to see them through, but also being distant enough to kill them if they just aren't working for people. It's the same in design work. - Kari


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