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Can 'Trial and Error' Survive in AdLand?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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As communications and creative professionals, we know that we can't always nail the perfect message, the perfect campaign, at the first go. Especially if the client doesn't have the budget or willingness for research, it can be difficult for an agency to be (ideally) successful the first time around.

Yet, as brands and their CMOs carefully watch their bottom lines, that is the expectation.

Because we're AdLand residents, the brand would rationalize; the creative and strategy we pitch is supposed to work exactly as one predicted. Then, as a mere factor of cause and effect, revenues would soar, profits would beat the market, and the CMO would get a bonus. Right?

But what if shops don't get it right the first time? 

We have written about the relationship between brands and agencies numerous times, and managing expectations is one of the most important elements of maintaining and growing such bond. However we feel that both parties — the corporate marketer and the agency — have neglected this by downplaying the proven method of trial and error.

This post is an off-shoot from Jason Miller's post about the God Complex, based on a TED talk he listened to (link to TED talk on his site). Miller writes about Hartford's study of complex economic systems, and he found that the common thread among them is trial and error. Each system didn't have an "end all, be all" philosophy so it could just stick with its experts and create something dynamic. No, each system took variations of something and continually improved it based on what worked and what didn't work. The point of this digression is that Miller then said that this is a method is best practiced with corporate marketers. He urges marketers to make "better mistakes."

We wish that agencies were allowed to make mistakes, regardless of how much "better" they may be.

Organizations have gotten so demanding on agencies that if a shop slips up, or wants to change its method, it could very well be jeopardizing the relationship. On the flip side, agencies have not done themselves justice either. Instead of pitching its people, it pitches its "unconventional process" and their "proprietary methodology." So when it looks like its methodology made a mistake, who can blame the brand for rethinking its selection?

The question at hand is the title of the post: can trial-and-error survive in AdLand? The best answer we can think of at the moment is, "No...but it should."

Take a couple that is dating. They have a disagreement, or one person gets the other wrong in some way. Should they work it out or just end it? Agencies and brands, like couples, can each make mistakes, and employing trial and error can not only make headway for a better relationship, but it can prove to be successful in advertising as well.

What do you think? Does trial and error still have a place in AdLand? Should brands be forgiving when shops improve or modify their creative based on performance?


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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