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The best marketing ideas that never saw the light of day

Tricia Despres
The best marketing ideas that never saw the light of day Tricia Despres

It's the idea that still makes you wake up in a cold sweat. You spent weeks coming up with the perfect pitch for the perfect campaign that would put both you and your client on the map. Everything sounded perfect. Everything looked perfect. And then the unthinkable happened -- the client said "no."

It's the campaign pitch that you still can't forget. Just like an old love who has never completely left your mind, some dropped campaign pitches will never to be forgotten.

The best marketing ideas that never saw the light of day

iMedia Connection reached out to a handful of senior-level marketers to ask about the campaign pitches that still haunt them -- the ones that never saw the light of day. Here are the stories they shared.

Lawyers aren't funny

Greg Hamblin, owner of TruCounsel Marketing, shared this story:

"I do online marketing for attorneys. As you know, they are a stodgy and serious lot. I encouraged my largest client to try and get more recognition by bringing a little humor to the site, or perhaps to the Facebook feed. I suggested a blog post with a simple list of funny accidents, like a car in a swimming pool, and call it something like '10 ways you know you'll need a lawyer.' But I was shot down. Apparently lawyers don't loosen their ties."

Pixilations are scary

Tom Siebert, VP and minister of propaganda at Digitaria, recalled this one:

"When I worked for Carton-Donofrio Partners in Baltimore (now CDP), we had a fun outdoor wear apparel client who shall remain nameless. We came up with a funny campaign that had a tag line that was something like, 'So warm, so comfortable, you won't wear anything else.' We had it pegged for viral video, which was really just taking off at the time, since this occurred around 2003 or 2004. The videos were going to show people going about their business outdoors wearing these heavy parkas...and nothing else. In the area of the crotch, there was going to be a huge dangling, jangling pixilation, completely exaggerated and ridiculous. It was hilarious and the client loved it. We immediately started production. Literally days before it was supposed to get seeded and promoted, somebody else came out with -- I don't remember now, it was either a TV commercial or a viral video -- that featured a guy streaking on to a soccer pitch, completely naked, with likewise huge pixilation. Our campaign was spiked, for fears of being deemed a rip-off. It was very frustrating."

Users don't like cheaters

Hafez Adel, director of marketing for ReTargeter, reflected on this one:

"My favorite failed campaign pitch was for a company that sold test prep materials online. I suggested that they design their display banners to call people out for browsing the web instead of studying for a test. Since the banners would be retargeted, users would essentially be followed around the web, being gently nagged to study for their test, and hopefully click on the ad to buy some test prep materials as well. They thought the concept was clever, but they were too afraid of insulting their users, so they never ran with it."

You must be high

Josh Royal, founder of X6 Media, recalled this high-flying idea:

"At X6 Media, we had a client that was one of the largest manufacturers of actual hot air balloons. We pitched our client on having the company CEO do an around-the-world record-setting adventure, as a direct challenge to billionaire Richard Branson's stunts in previous years. Two things kept the campaign from coming to fruition. First, Pakistan's Minister of Tourism would not agree to let us fly over their border from the direction the winds would have been forced to carry the company CEO. And while the CEO was eager to pull off the stunt and gain a ton of exposure for the company, his wife and kids did not approve of the voyage."

Social problems

Chris Ferguson, executive creative director of Tribal Worldwide, told iMedia about this close call:

"Tribal Worldwide participated in a pitch for a major car company last year. It was a long shot for us, but we ended up making it to the final round. We provided a unique offering that brought a human element to a car company by creating a socially fueled program to prove what the brand claimed their cars could do. The brand was claiming that their cars were a superior product. The program Tribal Worldwide pitched allowed the brand's social community to test the claims for themselves. 

"It is extremely rare that the idea you go into a pitch with is the idea that you believe should be executed. And that is how I felt about this idea. There are a lot of theatrics that go into a pitch, but when you are pitching an idea that you truly believe is right for the brand, it's an awesome feeling. We didn't win that particular pitch, but it did open the door for us to do work with the brand's parent company, which was a much larger prospect."

On the wrong foot

Finally, Joseph Dumont, partner at Questus, recalled this tear-jerker:
"During my 15 years in the advertising business, I have always wanted to represent a shoe company. So imagine my glee when a consultant representing a top shoe brand contacted me. My face actually began to hurt from smiling so much. So what now? I immediately called an all-hands meeting with our creative teams, technologists, strategy folk, and even some random people smoking a butt in front of our agency. I also called in some favors with Emmy Award winning film producers, as well as a celebrated Hollywood executive to help us out with a theme.

"We had about eight business days to create the necessary magic, and to this day, I still believe we crushed it. We created a 60-second video that wrapped emotion around their brand like nothing they had seen before -- I still tear up a bit when I watch it. But now those tears are mainly due to us getting the Heisman with the gig. The consultant's verbatim email is as follows: 'I think that we were concerned after our meeting that containing you guys as the digital team might be a challenge with our AOR.' End scene."

Tricia Despres is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Reject by businessman" image via Shutterstock.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Ford Kanzler

2013, October 18

I recall when working at a combined Ad/PR agency there was a sign in one of the art director's offices that said,"When you seen the color drain from the client's face, you know the concept is great."
Undoubtedly, many of the best ads ever created never ran because of small minds on the client side.