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Why Creatives Should Use "No" More

10/02/2013 05:23 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is generally used in the context of social interaction -- for example, being afraid of missing out on that awesome party where some guy came with some celebrity. But essentially, it is the fear of saying "no" to an experience or an idea.

It is the hesitance to interject, lest you be forever labelled the negative ninny of the department. But in the past few years, change brought about by the digital age puts the fear of Chuckie into businesses afraid of being left behind. Marketers everywhere are singing the siren song of increasingly outrageous social campaigns. Decision makers are seeing signs that the end of the traditional is nigh. More and more, the creative space has become a world of "yes." And that's a problem.

How did we get to so much "yes"? Danny Wallace wrote a book a few years back about his experiences for a whole year of just saying "yes" to everything. You may remember the Jim Carrey movie based on this book. I'm not saying his exploits created agreeable workplaces where bad ideas come to fruition and everyone works in silos despite agreeing to teamwork, but the book epitomizes something companies are showing now more than ever: FOMO. The fear of missing out.

Among the more facepalm-worthy campaigns of the past few years, we've got the brilliant minds who hired actors to wear body armour, carry assault rifles and run into a movie theatre before the Iron Man 3 premiere. This was less than one year after an actual man in body armour and carrying an assault rifle killed 12 people at a Batman movie premiere.

Or what about the Bic pen campaign that coloured their pens pink and purple and called them pens "for her"? The ad, by the way, promoted that the pens were designed to fit into a woman's hand. I kid you not. A series of people said "yes" to both of those campaigns and countless other ineffective and expensive endeavours in the past year alone. FOMO beat out common sense.

I'm not advocating for the breakdown of positive discussion and opportunistic advertising. After all, when Oreo managed to scramble together an ad about "dunking in the dark" during an unexpected Super Bowl blackout, the response was overwhelmingly positive. But, remember when Kenneth Cole jumped on a Cairo hashtag when it first appeared and tweeted that the riots were probably due to their new spring line? Not so great.

What's important among creatives now to avoid these types of mishaps and yet keep the line open for discussion is to take the negativity out of "no." "No" is one of the more taboo words around the office. You've probably been annoyed at hearing "no", or maybe you've tried to keep your own "nos" in check. If you work with clients, "no" is probably not in your vocabulary.

But "yes" is a dangerous word. It may not only lead to bad ideas, but it is often lazy. It is easy to say "yes." "Yes" is a bigger discussion-ender than "no" because it allows you to leave the conversation without further ado. While agreeability is often a component employers look for to show how compatible someone will be with a team and company values, it stops being a good quality when it affects output.

I have a challenge for all creatives out there. Start with "no." Begin all of your presentations about campaigns and concepts assuming that every single person in the room is going to object. Don't get defensive or offended. "Nos" are healthy. Assume no one believes you. Back up all of your assumptions with data, examples and hard facts. Not just gut intuition. And if you can't -- then no. Start again. If you know that you can't stand up to a room full of "no"s, if you can't explain why something is a good idea, then go back to the drawing board. When you start at "no", you have to prove your case not only to others, but also to yourself. And always remember -- it is a discussion, not a fight. No is not a conversation stopper or a call to arms. No is the road to ideas and campaigns based on logic and insight. Don't we all want to be a part of that?

At the end of the day, remember: The Economist once ran a print ad saying, "Why should women read the Economist? They shouldn't." Abercrombie and Fitch promoted a thong for kids. Sketchers got Kim Kardashian to say their shoes would help people lose weight, and got fined 40 million for the false claims.

Nivea took a frowning black man and told him to re-civilize himself. Even the Beatles once got it into their heads to shoot a cover where the 4 icons were photographed covered in dismembered baby dolls and butcher's meat cuts. Sometimes "no" needs to be said. Sometimes the best ideas come from starting at "no" and working your way up when you lead with strategy, insight, data and creativity. And sometimes, FOMO just shouldn't win.