If you’ve ever broken up with someone you cared for, you can relate to the old adage “breaking up is hard to do.” Even when severing ties is clearly the healthiest option and what’s best for you in the long run, it’s never easy. Which is why so many people choose to stay in unhealthy relationships rather than move on. According to the Huffington Post, several factors keep people in these ill-fated situations, including finances, denial, insecurity and expectations.
But here’s the thing, these feelings are not exclusive to love. In fact, we are constantly subjected to this rollercoaster of emotions as marketing professionals with the projects we work on and the brands we build. Relationships of another kind. In these instances, business imitates life, and life can teach us how to better serve our business.
I rode this rollercoaster early on in my time at adidas. I was working on video content for an upcoming footwear launch. The concept that came back from the agency was fun, irreverent and different. I loved it. It would star a prominent comedian to host the video, and co-star two of our most well-known athletes. We quickly secured internal buy-off and were off and running.
But as is often the case, we were short on time and money. Not the best formula when your concept depends on securing breakthrough celebrity talent. Things did not go according to plan. The A-level names didn’t bite, the B-level names didn’t excite us and the shoot date was only weeks away. So, as a marketer does, we pivoted. Rather than hire an experienced actor, we would rely on our athletes to carry the story. But here’s the thing about athletes, they’re not thespians. Comedic timing and the nuance that comes from years of experience in front of a camera is lost on anyone not trained for such duties. It wasn’t the athletes’ fault, it was mine. I had unreasonable expectations.
As the shoot date approached at what felt like breakneck speeds, I became more and more skeptical of what remained of our concept and plan. It wasn’t going to work, I was sure of it. We needed to pull the plug and eat the money we had invested. Except we couldn’t. As I sat with my boss, explaining the situation, I quickly realized we had to see it through despite the clear train wreck that lay ahead. Citing money already invested in the project and the potential of upsetting our agency partner, I was directed to keep moving forward. So I did.
The video was shot, the athletes did an admirable job under the circumstances and the video launched to icy reviews (internally and externally). To this day, it’s the one project from my career that I look back on with regret and embarrassment. It should have never happened. We should have broken up with the project.
Companies often pretend to believe in clichéd mantras like “fail harder” (we painted it on the wall, it must be true!) but at the end of the day, it’s business and money wins out just about every time. It shouldn’t. It can’t. If you want to build a successful and sustainable brand, you have to protect its integrity. That means being able to pull the plug on projects, regardless of sunk costs, that may hurt your brand’s reputation. A brand managers job is to protect the integrity of a brand. In order to do so, you must have the courage to pull the plug.