This essay appears in the newest issue of Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy & Design by Jean Grow and Tom Altstiel. 3% Founder, Kat Gordon, contributed it as a "War Story" to showcase the many failures we face in advertising. We're good at crowing about our successes, but it's important for emerging creatives to know that some days will suck.
My grimmest battle in the trenches of advertising happened away from an agency. While freelancing directly for an airline, I watched in slow motion as my client did something so unthinkable that even writing about it here causes a feeling of PTSD.
Ready? Make sure your luggage is stowed and your seatbelt is buckled because it’s about to get bumpy.
After four years of dreaming up campaign ideas for this airline – convincing travelers to pack a bag and plan a trip, no matter the season, airfares or weather – I entered some of the work my partner and I had produced into an award show that honored the best advertising targeting women. Low and behold, we won. The award organizers called to tell us the good news and to outline the announcement and PR planned for the coming weeks. They just needed a quote from the client.
The following day, the same award organizer called me back to tell me that the client had decided to do something no one had ever done before. THEY HAD DECIDED TO REFUSE THE AWARD. This had never before happened and they were unsure what to do. I immediately called my client to find out what was going on. And here’s what she said:
“When our PR people sat down to put together their quote, they had second thoughts. They don’t want to be too closely identified with marketing to women since we also market to business travelers and other segments.”
At this point my memory is a little fuzzy because I think I may have blacked out. When I came to, I reminded this client that women ARE business travelers. And that the family-friendly campaigns we had created for them that earned goodwill with parents extended into moments when these very same consumers were traveling without their children. I reminded her that one of our most valiant efforts – pulled together in 72 hours – had so successfully motivated female consumers that the client’s server had crashed. I reminded her that women are not a niche or a subset group but wield the largest consumer influence in the travel category, paying the majority of her very own salary.
She kept repeating the party line that the PR people didn’t want to be known as a female-friendly airline.
And just like that, the award fell into the hands of the runners up. I actually cried. Big, angry tears of frustration at the side of the road where I had pulled over to have this crazy conversation. I had spent eight years running an agency that specializes in marketing to women, only to find out that my biggest client had missed the point entirely. It was like running a vegetarian restaurant and discovering that your staff was secretly feasting on foie gras in the kitchen.
This happened SIX YEARS ago and I still grimace every time I think about that client, that award, the overall business myopia. Clearly my battle scars are yet to heal…