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March 27, 2024
Vaughan Townsend

Calculated Craziness

An emoji with it's head exploding

‘Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…’ 

We all remember the ad. And the zeitgeist at the time. It was a beautiful celebration of creativity in art, science, philosophy and business. And it lionised the company that could make it happen for all those undiscovered geniuses out there, tapping away at the keys of their MacBook Pros.  

But it also did a disservice to those brilliant minds. They weren’t crazy. They simply asked why things were done a certain way and why they couldn’t be done a better way. So, it was less crazy and more about challenging the status quo. But that doesn’t make for a good PR by-line. Or ad for that matter. 

Silicon Valley sells bad crazy.  

It seems crazy is having a resurgence if the press deification of tech-bro billionaires is anything to go by. In fact, anyone who has seemingly done things differently (and successfully) through sheer inspiration and flashes of genius is worthy of universal VC love.  

But when crazy ideas are untethered from reality, the truth follows shortly behind.  

Consider the cautionary tale of Theranos, once touted as the future of healthcare tech with a valuation of over $9 billion at its peak. In Theranos’ case, the idea seemed reasonable with the right tech, however investigations revealed fraud and deception on an industrial scale. It was a case of crazy ambition getting in the way of real-world tech capability. 

Similarly, Juicero, a start-up backed by prominent investors including Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, aimed at disrupting the juicing industry with its high-tech juicer and subs model. Despite raising over $100 million in funding, Juicero was widely mocked for its exorbitant price tag and the revelation that the proprietary juice packs could be squeezed the old-fashioned way, by hand, rendering the pricey juicer wholly redundant. In Juicero’s case crazy is as crazy does. 

In this month’s OutThink we look at the CMOs of New Balance, Tend, and Stanley who’ve been called crazy for some of the audacious business decisions they’ve made.  

But when you read their stories, you discover they have all applied themselves to different problems in the same way. They simply looked at seemingly dull products, and achieved things few would have believed possible. How? Through adhering to some basic beliefs and applying them through rational, well thought out marketing first principles. And revolutionary ideas followed.  

Good craziness is calculated.  

My first Creative Director, Graham Warsop from the Jupiter Drawing Room, ran a highly successful and awarded agency. It was praised for its crazy and category-defying ideas at the time. But the truth couldn’t be more different. The agency’s motto (unnecessarily in Latin) was ‘Rem tene verba sequentur’. Translated into plain language, it means “Grasp the subject and the words (and ideas) will follow”. And that was the key to all the awards and success. Research, understanding, getting under the skin of the product and category. Looking for the patterns and cliches and subverting them. 

Research, practice, hard graft and resilience pays off more than unbridled inspiration.  

Back to Apple, the original purveyor of calculated cray cray. Steve Jobs was often cited as the best marketer of the late 20th century, and famously didn’t abide research or focus groups of any kind. He traded in inspiration and genius and myth making. But it seems that myth too has been busted. 

According to Mark Ritson, in a patent lawsuit between Samsung and Apple, a court order revealed that Apple had more market research than ‘anyone had seen in any company in the history of the world’. A bold claim no one really talks about, because it doesn’t fit the universe-warping narrative so carefully crafted by Jobs. 

The uncomfortable truth is that Apple valued research, did a huge amount of it and made fabulous, world-beating products as a result. 

It’s easy to sum up any crazy success story in a pithy sentence that ignores the industry and work that went into it. Uber turned every car into a taxi, Patagonia made big business ethical, Airbnb turned everyone’s home into a hotel. None of these 20th century marketing miracles were based on crazy decisions.  

That’s why we relentlessly champion the power of thinking here at Affinity – to make a measurably positive impact on the world. That’s also why we only hire strategists and not traditional account handlers. Some might say that’s crazy. But with the outcomes we’ve seen from this approach, we think it’s a calculated risk worth taking. 


Better input always leads to greater outcomes

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