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January 3, 2007
Accountability vs. Experimentation: and how these two bitter rivals can become best friends forever

There is an incredible degree of schizophrenia in the world of marketing right now. And that’s a good thing. What I mean by this is that clients in many instances are appropriately demanding of accountability. Every dollar matters, and it is critical that every dollar demonstrates a return on the investment. At the same time, we also have clients, sometimes even the same clients, who are interested in accountability, demanding aggressive amounts of experimentation with far different criteria for ROI.

We’ve found these seemingly mutually exclusive interests as in fact mutually dependent. The logic behind this is the same logic that drives the sensibility of an Investment Portfolio Model. In any balanced portfolio, there are reliable return investments such as bonds, or value stocks, and there are higher risk investments such as growth or speculative plays.

A great communication plan is built like this. For each client, what qualifies as a bond may vary but as you can see in the chart below, those investments might be DM or search. As you move down the continuum, the greater risk reward communication choices are more and more likely to include the potential for a big hit with intense engagement and consumer-generated distribution and, of course, the risk of a total flop.






Reasonably sure of results

New, but expanding

Unknown results




Selective Print







Over the long haul, just as in a smart investment portfolio, it is important to take a degree of risk in order to pull the rewards from higher risk/higher reward communication choices. After all, if you only invest in bonds, you’ll get a secure return, but it will never give you a high return. On the other hand, if you buy Google when it goes public at $80 or whatever it was, then someday you could be sitting on a price of $450 a share.

This experimentation is driven by all sorts of reasons; the chance for a homerun, a genuine desire to test different communication forms, or a head of marketing’s desire to satisfy his boss’ desire for something “VIRAL”. It is important to make sure that clients are clear on the objectives and the likelihood for success or failure of the more experimental communication forms.

If, for example, you’re Smirnoff and are trying to create a Subservient Chicken-level viral success with Tea Partay, who knows what will happen? You could get something brilliant, and it gets you several million dollars worth of free distribution and more credibility than any conventional spot could generate. Or it could sit there like a turd in a punch bowl and stink up your brand.

This same schizophrenia seems to also be driving some of the success in agency brand and pitch positioning these days. On one end, you have the brilliance of Crispin Porter’s aggressive experimentation style. On the other hand, there’s the creation of accountability monsters like Draft/FCB or Digitas. These models work well because when a client gets fed up with her existing agency, she tends to crave one of the two extremes. She craves change, and these two models tend to offer the greatest degree of change.

Since smart investment plans require a balanced communication program, do you wonder where that will leave marketers and agencies? Will those agencies that represent balance win out, or will marketers perhaps end up with two agencies? One, the risky experimental shop, and the other, the ROI shop that pulls Tea Partay into some kind of cross-media ROI modeler. I expect that just as with an investment portfolio, marketers are going to do what they need with agency partners to make sure they end up with great returns. Going forward, this requires a balance between those new best friends, Accountability and Experimentation.

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Ed Dilworth, Executive Vice President, Chief Contact Officer at Campbell-Ewald oversees media communications, digital services, direct marketing acquisitions, and CE’s custom publishing group. An experienced communications executive, Ed has an enviable record of business growth in the traditional advertising, interactive, and publishing industries. Earlier in his career, Ed was Director of Sales and Marketing at Access Communications and part of the Ziff-Davis Publishing team that launched and built PC Computing into a $100 million magazine.

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