Be very careful with your creative ability, you may find that your revolutionary ideas are not exactly welcome.

A couple of years ago Cherryflava was doing some amazingly innovative work for an impressive collection of local and international  brands. We specialised in experiential ideas and production that, looking back, were a couple of years ahead of their time. Inspired to a large degree by the amazing use of technology that we saw in far more developed markets, we set out to ‘sell crazy’ here in South Africa.

What we found though, was that crazy wasn’t exactly in high demand. Much of the sentiment towards our work was: ‘Crazy looks great when other companies are mad enough to try it, but if my job depends on just keeping the ship steady , why would I go looking for waves?

Somehow we did managed to convince some brave brands to experiment with things like alternate reality gaming, QR codes, RFID technology and projection mapping. But truth be told, it ended up costing us a lot more to do the work than what we were able to charge for it. It’s still very frustrating to think back to what we were doing and accept that it didn’t work as a business. But it’s never a good idea to let pain go to waste, so these are some of the lessons that we learnt:

  1. Don’t sell a revolution to a rich, comfortable man: A client might include the words ‘world first’ or ‘something totally different’ in their brief, but the exact definition of those words for them are most probably vastly different from your understanding of what that means. Make sure you’re speaking the same language up front.
  2. Don’t explain the colour red to a blind man: You may have come up with the best idea, but it might not be the right idea for the job. An idea needs to fit the time, place and person you are sharing it with. If any of these factors is out of sync, your idea is worthless and you will feel frustrated that others don’t see it like you do. Know what your market will tolerate and focus on that.
  3. Pace yourself: It’s easy for creative people to go bat shit crazy with ideas that the world has never seen before, but the challenge is not the idea itself – it’s the selling of that idea. The trick is to start with the impossible and dial it back to practical and sell-able.
  4. Keep the home fires burning: The chances of your ‘innovative paradigm shift’ making millions for the business straight away, are minimal. You’ll need to have some kind of income generating mechanism in place first so that you can have the freedom to explore riskier concepts without the worry of going out of business. Get that up and running before you tackle the sexier side of things.
  5. Scale your ideas: Probably the biggest mistake we made was to not think about scaling our work. Prototyping and producing unique concepts for a limited audience without a plan to rework your effort, is not financially sustainable. Revolutionary ideas themselves have to generate an income or a substantial return on investment, otherwise just like us, you will only be able to afford to have just a few of them before you go out of business.
  6. Protect yourself: We got burnt by the same client twice. Business can be a tough game and craftier players will sniff out that you have your head in the clouds. Never forget that there are those that will try and take advantage of your enthusiasm. Protect yourself from those situations, because the betrayal of trust will scar you and ultimately negatively effect your work.
  7. Don’t make your client look crazy: You want to make your client look like a rock star, not a sucker for buying into your madness. There’s a lot of politics inside of organisations, don’t make your client have to sell your outlandish thinking alone.

A revolution may burn fiercely in your soul, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to join your cause. You will indeed find a fringe audience for your message, but know that crazy seldom finds mass commercial appeal. The challenge then is to not over-think it. Package your strong medicine into a more palatable capsule that will sell and ultimately allow you to carry on with your revolutionary daydreaming.