Death by a Thousand Cuts
There was a form of torture and execution used in China until 1905 known as lingchi.
A condemned prisoner would be tied to a wooden frame, and their flesh was cut from their body in multiple places.
While the reality of this practice was quite different from what eventually became Western myth, a sensationalist moniker remains.
"Death by a thousand cuts."
Coming up with a great idea for a campaign is difficult enough as it is, and even if a client happens to like an idea, they may still want to make changes. It’s their brand on the line; maybe even their job.
It’s easy to empathize with their position, but nothing can distort or otherwise ruin any creative work by making changes. Copywriter Luke Sullivan likened the process of making an advertisement as getting pecked to death by ducks.
From his book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This:
“Your clients did not go to a portfolio school, or an art school, and probably never read one book on advertising. This is not a failing because this is not their job. You got your job by being good at using words and pictures to make something interesting. But your clients likely achieved the position of brand manager by being good salespeople in the field.”
The goal of the marketer is to find something unique or interesting about the product, and communicate it is a way that appeals to regular people. Yet, many clients are weary of work that is too unique or too interesting - even though conflict and drama are key.
Which of these do you think is the stronger idea?
A commercial featuring a bunch of rollerskating babies was once created for Evian. It’s mildly entertaining in a cute sort of way and was a big hit on the internet.
A commercial featuring an animatronic baby crying and giggling in a white room for Sony’s Playstation 3. It’s bizarre, frightening, and on some level, deeply disturbing.
It may surprise you to learn that despite its popularity, the commercial with the cute dancing babies actually had no impact on Evian’s bottom line. It’s safe, inoffensive, a momentary distraction - advertising by committee.
So long as there is creative work, people are going to want to make changes to it.
From their perspective, their changes will make it better, even if that’s not the case.
Creatives need to be able to defend their work, to prevent it from being picked apart and sanitized.
To avoid the death by a thousand cuts.
Princess Mononoke, an animated feature from the acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki, was Japan’s highest-grossing film in 1997.
Naturally, there was interest in bringing the film of the rest of the world. Disney acquired the North American rights, and planned to release through its subsidiary, Miramax.
At the time, there was a certain producer at Miramax who sought to make films as commercially appealing as possible by cutting them relentlessly. During a meeting with Miyazaki, this producer demanded changes.
In response to these demands, the film’s producer and Studio Ghibli head Toshio Suzuki sent Miramax a package containing a katana and a note.
The film was released unedited.