Why campaigns need to fail to succeed

Date: 22/01/2019 Written by: Daisy 4 minutes to read.
Marketing insights

More often than not, the best insights come from failure than success. But we don't always get to learn from failure because no-one wants to talk about what went wrong and why. On our wall at work it reads: "We don't fail, we learn". It's one of the quotes we try to live by (alongside "we have fun, we do coffee and cake"). Unlike some, we embrace failure, because it helps us to create better and more successful campaigns in the future.

Predicted Failure

We like predicted failure and we actively look at this in the developmental process. ‘Predicted Failure’ helps people to recognise any short-comings with their design and make changes BEFORE moving forward - sometime before launch. It might sound pessimistic, but we think about what could go wrong long before putting anything out there.

Knowing what does not work with an audience will help in finding a key message which will work

But sometimes, it is only after launching a campaign that failure can occur, or could be considered failure. Nine times out of ten campaigns fail because they do not grow from insight and audience understanding - they are developed to 'do to' rather than 'do with'. But even with a solid foundation, some campaigns just don't resonate and 'hit the sweet spot' and it is understanding why (and not giving up) that moves social change forward.

Failure on any scale doesn’t have to be all bad. And perhaps the first thing to change is our thinking (and the culture that contributed to our thinking). If we focus on campaigns, for example, one that has not succeeded in implementing its desired behaviour change, provides insight for future campaign development. This is the time NOT to give up. You might be surprised to hear that it is actually quite rare for a first time campaign to launch and be fabulously successful. It is usually the development of the initial campaign idea months into the campaign that provides the desired results. For example, initial messages and concepts might not resonate and need to be adapted. Words or images might leads to backlash so this helps to determine what doesn't work or what words, topics, images are best to avoid. Knowing what does NOT work with an audience will push you one step forward in finding a key message that will work and resonate with people to make behaviour change a reality.

Insight from Failed Campaigns

In 2015 Jamie Oliver admitted that his initiative to encourage healthy eating in schools was not as successful as he’d hoped because of the overriding belief that healthy eating was more for the ‘middle-class’. However, this failure actually generated valuable insight into the attitudes and beliefs of his target audience. With a combination of research and concept testing, a new campaign was created (which is addressing a key barrier preventing behaviour change) and encouraging more schools to provide healthier meals.

The Department of Health launched the ‘five-a-day initiative’ in 2003, which encouraged people to eat at least five portions of fruit and/or vegetables on a daily basis by highlighting the long-term health benefits. However, this campaign failed to have a lasting impact on consumer behaviour as, despite a 1% increase in fruit consumption in 2008, vegetable consumption decreased by 11%. Research into this campaign suggested that the focus on long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits was the problem, as the target audience place more value on short-term benefits. Subsequent campaigns should therefore use this information to develop a message more relevant for their target audiences.

Despite a 1% increase in fruit consumption in 2008, vegetable consumption decreased by 11%

These examples show how failure can be an important step in achieving success. If you choose to learn and embrace failure and not shun it. I personally would like to see 'de-briefs' during and after campaigns where failure is discussed and embraced. But I appreciate that the culture of any organisation must support this, otherwise it won't work. In any situation, failure can highlight what works and what doesn’t, and what resonates with the target audience and what falls flat. This information contributes to the development of the correct messages and concepts which will resonate with the target audience and help facilitate behaviour change.

Celebrating Failure

We discovered Fail Festival some time ago and we love it! This is an organisation dedicated to celebrating failure of all scales and encourages people to see past the negative and focus on the positive side of failing. It believes that failure is good for the very reasons mentioned above.

Failure can be seen as an important step in achieving the ultimate goal

A failed campaign does not have to be entirely negative and this is something we must remember. By taking another perspective, that failure can be seen as an important step in achieving the ultimate goal, and in that sense should be celebrated is the way forward. Rather than focusing on what went wrong, delving deeper to understand why it didn’t work can provide guidance on how to make it work in the future and then develop a more successful campaign or project. Failure is therefore key to a successful campaign, as finding out what shouldn’t be done is just as valuable as finding out what should be done.

So let's embrace failure. Practice makes perfect after all!

You might also like

Get the latest insights and other interesting changemaker stuff in your inbox.

Once or twice a month, 100% real and interesting, 0% spam.
We create meaningful digital products that connect with people and make positive change possible.

Home of the changemakers.

We just need a bit more info

* indicates required

Social Change will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at rob@social-change.co.uk. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.