Thumb Print Syndrome – A Debilitating Creative Disease

5700609302_16bb1386e0_zMy retired partner had an expression he used whenever a really strong creative concept that the agency presented and sold was methodically destroyed by the client during the actual production process.  To him, the thought of the Big Idea dying a slow miserable death by client changes was akin to “being nibbled to death by ducks.”

As much as you try to dissuade the client from making bad creative decisions, sometimes they won’t listen.  And the end result is often 20,000-leagues-under-the-sea from what the original intent of the creative concept was. It’s a Big Idea crushed by Thumb Print Syndrome.

It’s very much like this Designing The Stop Sign video clip:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wac3aGn5twc

I suppose you might say that the client is paying the bill, so just roll with the punches. But you’ve been hired, supposedly, for your strategic and creative expertise.  So why won’t they leave well enough alone?

Thumb Print Syndrome is a feedback process whereby each corporate decision maker feels the need to contribute to the “effectiveness” of the creative and no one at the client side actually controlling what does or doesn’t get included in the feedback to the agency.  In many cases, it just becomes too-many-cooks-spoiling-the-broth.

As an agency, you can only defend your position so many times before the client starts thinking you are too difficult to work with. Clients with a strong, creative-oriented person heading up marketing usually can stop or at least limit damage to great creative ideas. That’s not to say all client feedback is bad. But the problem arises when clients can’t recognize that their feedback has turned the Big Idea into a weak one.  And this happens day in, day out in the world of branding and communications.

One way to alleviate Thumb Print Syndrome is to guide the patient’s (‘er client’s) creative thinking towards other areas of the marketing challenge where their thumbprints can possibly add value to the Big Idea – like content for white papers, webinars, podcasts, etc.  They have the in-depth knowledge to make these parts of a creative campaign useful and worthwhile for their target audience. They can leave their mark all over these types of tools and not destroy the overall Big Idea.

4481372869_7e68e45cd6_zAnd then we all (client and agency) can collectively give a big thumbs up for a campaign well done!

Photo credits:  Flickr – Paola Camera and Lee Hayward

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