The Ideas of March - Death to Bad Ideas


In 2007, Cartoon Network was catching fire and growing its audience base with a series of off the wall animated original programing called Adult Swim. That block of shows was headlined by a show called Aquateen Hunger Force. To promote this continuing success and an upcoming movie based on that property, the marketing team at Adult Swim hired an ad agency to create a guerrilla campaign utilizing light up art boards that would be placed in public locations throughout downtown Boston with the goal of turning a relatively unknown show into a more public conversation. Good idea.

The problem? No one recognized the characters due to their obscurity and the components used to create these units bore similar traits to IEDs or Improvised Electronic Devices. And in a post 9-11 world, bomb squads were called in, city blocks were closed and city officials were up in arms, resulting in firings, resignations and ultimately levying millions of dollars in fines on the company. Bad idea.

When Adult Swim proposed and developed the campaign, they couldn’t have anticipated the trouble that would follow. I mean, no one ever has a goal to create something that would fall so short that it will be remembered for the failure as opposed to the attempt. Yet this is typical of the type of story that goes down in the annals of history as a bad idea.

Failed logos, inappropriate Super Bowl ads, regretful layouts – bad ideas, we’ve all had them as creatives. They are the byproducts of many things, sometimes controllable, sometimes not: bad timing, not enough time, poor advice, stubborn art directors… this list can be neverending. The results often all bear the same signature no matter the cause.

(And no matter how we spin things or look at them, some ideas are just bad so let’s not get into an existential debate of whether they do or don’t exist.)

But is there a way to combat these bad ideas?

Should our goal be to become watchdogs of our own rampant creativity? To further the extinction of bad ideas by limiting how many ideas we have? The danger is that we won’t truly ever know if an idea is good or bad until we see the eventual outcome – therefore paranoia of any ideas is just not the solution. We can also throw ourselves into a never-ending cycle of critiques in front of wisemen and experts, but this too can have holes since no one has a crystal ball.

So what then? Just acknowledge the inevitability of crappy ideas?

Actually, the answer is yes.

Simply said, let them happen. Kill bad ideas by letting them live. Every idea has a lifecycle, and often times, being a bad idea is part of that. We just need to remember that there’s another stage after that.

It’s called resurrection and it happens when these bad ideas are given another life, perhaps the life that they were meant to have. It’s the post-it note that was born out of an attempt to make a super strong adhesive. The overcooked combination of rubber and sulfur and a spilling of chemicals that would become a material called plastic. The SAT prep online application that would later go on to become a cloud platform called Dropbox.

Bad ideas are real. And they will stay bad ideas if we don’t revisit them. We can put them to death if we believe that we can bring them back to life as something better. Putting Jesus Christ to death was maybe the worst idea in the history of bad ideas and that was certainly made into something a helluva lot better.

Here’s to the next bad idea.