“Better a spectacular failure than a benign success.”


What was the last genuinely brave or different ad you saw? The last time you gasped in amazement and were truly blown away by piece of advertising? Marmite ‘Rescue Team’? ‘Be More Dog’? Hmmm. They’re good ads. Really well crafted. Memorable. Probably effective. But it kind of stops there. I doubt anyone beyond a couple of hundred advertising creatives will remember them in five years. The only three things I can think of from the last decade that have gone beyond advertising and made an irrevocable impact on the culture are Cadburys ‘Gorilla’, Guardian ‘Three Little Pigs’ and Nike+ FuelBand.

The title of this blog post is the epitaph of punk legend Malcolm McClaren. The reason I reference it is that spectacular failure is the one thing I’d like to see more of. Because failure is a by-product of ambition and audacity. And in a world where 89% of advertising every year goes completely unnoticed, playing it safe is the biggest risk of all. A far bigger risk than that of a few people within your agency/organisation not liking your ad or it getting dissed in Private View. As Dave Trott once said, “Suppose you think what you’re about to do is risky. Multiply the risk factor by 10. Scare yourself stupid at the enormity of what you’re about to do. And if you’re lucky, they might just about notice.”

The best example of spectacular failure I can think of is Saatchi & Saatchi/Jonathan Glazer’s Flake ad. I’ve always been a big fan of its outrageous, debauched mentalism. But when it surfaced in 2010 the client, claiming it didn’t research well with their core audience, pulled it and sacked Saatchi. Every time it’s been put up online since then Kraft has had it taken down. Once again, there’s a link floating around so I’m putting it up while I have the chance. The only reason I’m labeling it a failure is that it never ran. But although it fell frustratingly at that final hurdle, I’ve always been inspired by the ambition that pushed the script through, got Glazer on board and approved, got the budget signed off and got this bonkers ad made. In the words of RP McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, “But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit. At least I did that.”


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

4 Responses to “Better a spectacular failure than a benign success.”

  1. Martin Headon says:

    Disagree about 3 Little Pigs having any lasting cultural impact (and I’m a London-based Guardian reader), but that Flake ad is utterly marvelous. Stupid, stupid client.

  2. antmelder says:

    Hi Martin. Hmmm, as a creative I loved the scale and ambition of Three Little Pigs but a quick straw poll of non-ad people tells me you might be right. A better example would have been C4’s Meet The Superheroes. Regarding the Cadbury client, I dunno about “stupid” (this is the guy who bought ‘Gorilla’). It would’ve taken some serious balls to run the ad. But the rewards could’ve been huge…it could’ve been a game-changer.

  3. Rich Beer says:

    I completely agree with your premise – perhaps the only answer is to set up some kind of ‘advertising school for clients’ to teach them how to understand what makes a good idea and not be scared of drawing attention to themselves.

    Having said that, one other point you sort of raise is the difference between a great ad idea and an impactful ad idea. The Three Little Pigs ad was undeniably great, but I have no idea if it had an impact or not – are there any publicly available metrics? Does a lack of impact make it not great? I suppose it depends on the meaning of ‘great’ to a certain extent.

    Likewise, that Flake devil ad is awful! I can’t imagine the creative thinking behind it was any more complex than “Hmm chocolate…temptation… the devil!@!!1”. The cinematography is rubbish, the editing is all over the place and… well. That’s not really the point. The point is, I can see exactly why it would have had impact. People would have been talking about it at the watercooler in the office the next day (given it was pre-social media). But is that enough?

    What makes a good ad? One that impresses people and improves the view of the brand, even if it’s among a narrow audience (Guardian Three Little Pigs)? Or one that shocks people or provokes other negative reactions, but creates a buzz (this Flake ad, or the awful, cheesy Radon ads from many years go).

    Perhaps the only truly great ads are the rare ones that do both (Cadbury’s Gorilla).

    • antmelder says:

      Hi Rich.

      I reckon that just as the best creatives are inherently great planners, the best clients inherently understand creative work. And rather than piddling about with executional details, they focus on the stuff that pushes your thinking to be stronger and the work to be better. It’s no surprise that the guy who bought ‘Gorilla’ went on to start an agency with one of the UK’s greatest ever creatives. They’ll do great.

      For me, what makes a great ad is simple. Does it deliver on the brief – be that awareness, conversion, trial or whatever – in a really interesting/entertaining/unexpected/whatever way? As you say, `Gorilla’ does both. So does ‘Meet The Superheroes’. Something like ‘Barry Scott’ only does the former.

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