When your creative idea becomes a ‘Doh!’ moment

—Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your original concept gets turned into something much less than you intended, says Craig Redmond—

We’ve all had Homer Simpson moments in our career. One such regretful “doh!” incident cuffed me across the head when I was working on Wrigley Extra.

We had an idea to revive the tired legacy brand and breathe life into its “long-lasting flavour” promise. It came in the shape of an animated, ornery little wad of gum, resentfully chasing down and berating his chewer for being discarded prematurely, before all his flavour could be savoured.

We knew we had something when one of the most famous animation companies in the world offered to produce the test spot for next to nothing in the hopes of landing the real project. And then that test scored through the roof in a small research market media buy. The results caught the attention of Wrigley headquarters in Chicago, where they decided to pick up the concept and run it nationally in the U.S. Boom.

But then Bill Wrigley Jr. himself was shown the humble little test spot from some place called Canada. And the great grandson of the company’s founder lost it. “I will not allow an ugly, chewed up bolus of gum to represent one of our flagship brands. It must be a pristine, untouched stick of Extra!”

Of course, I doth protested, arguing that it didn’t make any sense at all if the character was unchewed. But I was warned that if we didn’t acquiesce, Bill Jr. would kill the concept and all that U.S. exposure, not to mention a ton of revenue for the agency, would go away. So, we reluctantly agreed.

Years later, when the campaign was finally retired, my boss and I celebrated its wake with a glass of wine. During which he proclaimed, “It would have been so much better if the gum character had been chewed up all along.”

“Doh!” was the only response I could muster.

Now, I can’t speak for the creative peeps who came up with this lovely concept for Conservation International. But my gut tells me it did not come out quite the way it may have been originally conceived, resulting in their own regrettable Homer moment.

The film features three beautiful young children inspecting three equally beautiful seaside locations, only to find them polluted with plastic. The cinematography is stunning. The sound design is deftly discreet. The music foreshadows, but isn’t heavy-handed. And the gentle innocence of the children addressing the ocean itself is both unexpected and heart-melting.

But then it happens. The ocean talks back. Like a poor man’s Morgan Freedman playing God, with the emotional gravitas of a badly overdubbed YouTube instructional video, and cringe sets in.

It would have been so much more powerful for the children to present their crazy ass ideas to the ocean, only to be met by the haunting roar of its rolling breakers. Instead, it feels like someone piped up to say, “You know what? It would feel so much more hopeful if the ocean responded lovingly.”

But regardless of whether that’s how the project went down or not, there’s only one way to respond to its finished outcome. With that resounding and all too familiar sound we’ve all uttered, in the blinding and humbling illumination of 20/20 hindsight: “Doh!”

Craig Redmond is a Creative Leader with Palmer Stamnes and Co, an independent family of marketing communication companies.