How does work die?

The obvious answer is ‘because it’s shit’, but we all know that creative work bites the dust for myriad reasons. Here are a few:

  1. You’re looking at different colours. When you said ‘It’ll be a dark satire in the form of a man whose business goes under’, your client/CD/director thought of one version of those subjective nouns and adjectives, while you were thinking of another. If your client’s imagined version is too far from yours they will either kill yours or they’ll injure it badly by trying to shape it into what they really had in mind. If it’s your director/illustrator/typographer you might be fortunate enough to go again with someone else, or use others (the editor/sound designer etc.) to salvage the work, or (very rarely) be pleasantly surprised by something you were not expecting. But more often their wrong work will just result in the end result being plop.
  2. Bad timing. I remember coming up with a campaign at AMV that I told my wife about. As a production company rep, she was aware of much of the work flowing through the industry, so she sadly informed me that another agency was doing something with the same idea. Were we supposed to tell the client? Would we back off? Who would be on air first? In the end we went ahead, scuppering the other campaign, which, I imagine, was quite annoying for the other creative team. They suffered from an unfortunate accident in timing, but such an occurrence can take other forms: delays with the budget can drag an ad into ‘Q3′, fucking up the chances of finding the cash to do it properly. Or the client might go under or get bought out, just when the green light was about to happen. No fault of your own, but you deal with the consequences.
  3.  A changing of the guard. Your CD loved it. He sold it up the chain, holding the hand of a worried client who wasn’t sure he could buy such brave work. He eked another 100k out of the CMO for that helicopter shot that would send you sauntering to the D&AD podium. Then he got a job offer elsewhere, fucked off to Sao Paolo and the whole house of cards collapsed. Or maybe the client left, and like any self-respecting studio head, the new guy/gal binned everything his/her predecessor OK’d. After all, if those ads became successes the old client would get the credit, and if they were failures the new one would get the blame. Better to kill everything and avoid such difficulties. Sorry if that means your long-cherished 90″ cinema spot is now dead, but thems the breaks.
  4. Competition. The funny thing about creative endeavours is that they are entirely subjective, so it doesn’t actually matter if your script is ‘better’ than the one the senior team down the corridor turned in; if that team is tight with the CD and/or client, you’re probably fucked (of course, there’s always the possibility that their script is better, and that the CD/client just feels more comfortable going into production with a more experienced pair of hands). May the best man win is a fine sentiment when the playing field is level, but I’m afraid it’s never really level, and at the beginning of your career you’re most likely to be at the wrong end of its slope. At some point in the future you may be that senior team that gets a more advantageous rub of the green, and when that time comes the likelihood of you falling on your own sword will be close to zero, so this time, tough shit.
  5. The people doing the choosing are utter fuckwits. We’ve all been there: you write a script Paddy Chayefsky would be proud of, the timing is perfecto, there are no other scripts in the way and everyone is solidly entrenched in their job for the next few years. What could go wrong? Well, alas, not everyone has good taste, so there’s a little chance your CD, CEO or client (the three people who can really kill your work) might be too stupid or talentless to see the gold sparkling on your page. At best they might add or remove some crucial elements that will now send your idea to Turd Town; at worst they might just think it’s crapola and strangle it in its crib. Actually maybe the first of those is the worst one, because then you have to see the thing through, which means getting on the Excrement Express and taking a month-long trip to Turd Town, stopping at the resort of Cackville on the way. Best to let it die early; you will feel less pain.

With all that to navigate it’s amazing any good ads get made at all.

What’s that you say? Good ads hardly ever get made at all?

Well, now you know why.