Memo To Celebrity Apprentice: Sometimes The Client Is Wrong

Donald Trump’s new show, Celebrity Apprentice, does not always feature celebrities (Omarosa has more notoriety than celebrity). And the participants will never become Apprentices. But like the original Apprentice series, each episode teaches valuable lessons — sometimes inadvertently.

Caution: What follows may be interpreted as a spoiler. So if the last episode still resides on your DVR and the element of suspense is important to you…you’re warned.

Being a musical Luddite, I hadn’t heard of Gene Simmons, one of the Celebrity Contestants. Simmons has used the show as an opportunity to display his talents as a marketing genius.

In the last episode, Simmons came up with a brilliant idea for celebrity client Kodak – a memorable slogan and a slick presentation.

“But that wasn’t what we wanted!” cried the executives. “We are selling ink. You are delivering emotion.”

The judging triumvirate – Trump, his daughter Ivanka and guest judge Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” — all agreed: We have to listen to the client. The custmomer is always right.

But this time, I believe they were wrong.

Many decades ago, a famous marketing pro named David Ogilvy wrote a classic: Confessions of an Advertising Man. Like classics in any field, it’s still worth reading.

Ogilvy warned that clients get in the way of their own advertising. They won’t take risks with brilliant, edgy campaigns that draw customes. They don’t think like their own customers.

He was right.

In a full service ad qgency, account executives act as buffers between The Talent and The Client. That way you can take advantage of outsize creative egos without risking a business relationship.

But on The Apprentice – and often in my own business – clients meet the creative process head-on. The result can be a collision or a conversion.

I wish The Donald had asked an advertising executive to serve as one of the judges, instead of a finance guy. I wish Donald had stood up and said, “We have to play by the rules. But I hope Kodak tests your idea because it’s brilliant and edgy. When you feel just a little bit uncomfortable you may be on to something great.”

When I deliver copy, my clients sometimes express dismay. “It doesnt sound like me.” “It’s so…marketing!”

I encourage them to live with the copy. I offer to run tests and comoparisons if they’re really nervous. Fortunately, as results come in, clients are pleasantly surprised and they relax. It’s hard to argue with increased sign-ups, revenue and (hopefully) profit.

And I do listen to the client – when they talk about their target markets. On Kodak-size accounts, the advertisers typically go directly to the clients to get first-hand insights.

Maybe Simmons would have done better to stay focused on the ink. Maybe his ideas were too big for the project.

But as every marketer knows, it’s hard to be objective about our own marketing. It’s frustrating to create a campaign that comes down to, “We’re cheaper.” And the big wins often come when we step outside our comfort zone.

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