I grew up in a small town in Germany. Everybody knew each other, everybody knew everyone’s business. Many people had dreams to leave that little box they called home. They dreamt of living in amazing places like New York or Acapulco. They wanted to experiment with different professions, life styles and learn by traveling the world. 99% of these dreamers were not good in executing any of these ideas. They were extremely good at bashing the ones that tried: “Why would he leave our town to study art? You can’t make money with that.” or “No wonder he ran out of money in San Francisco. What was he thinking?” When people that walked the walked returned, they were embraced with an implied “You learned your lesson: Stay home and stick to what you’re good at. Don’t bother trying again.”

The advertising industry is like a small town where 99% talk the talk and 1% walk the walk.

And the 99% talkers can’t wait to start bashing the 1% walkers when they fail. The last example is the #shamrocking meme by McDonald’s, that followed the #McDStories bashtag revolt. Before that, Honda paid bloggers to write positively about the Honda Civic. the “Homeless Spots” by BBH, J-Lo’s Fiat campaign, etc.

I’m not defending the specifics of these campaigns. What I’m defending is that the client and their agencies tried. They came up with ideas, they executed them and we were waiting behind the bushes to bash them.

Attend any media/advertising conferences and you’ll be inundated by talks about innovation, fast failures and quick innovation. While talk is cheap, it gets cheaper in the hallways while the advertising community bashes any campaign/initiative that didn’t turn out to be the next Old Spice or Apple’s ‘1984’ commercial.

Every time people create something, they stick their head out. They risk something. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. Bringing out the big hammer to put them back in line doesn’t help anyone. It just ensures that less people and brands will take risks.

“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Edwin H. Land

Have we created an environment where people are afraid to even try?