Scoping Does Not Work. Never Did. Never Will

We need a better environment for creativity

Nike
What if this Nike slogan was only valued at one day's work? Nike
Headshot of Ari Halper

Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s 1988. Not because we all want to forget about the pandemic—after all, 1988 came with its own share of tragedies. But that year also saw the birth of the greatest tagline in advertising history: “Just Do It.”

They are three of the most valuable words ever to be uttered. Literally worth billions of dollars over the years. Transforming a northwest sneaker manufacturer into one of the most inspiring forces in the world.

Let’s suppose, for just a moment, that “Just Do It” popped into the minds of Dan Wieden and his team, in a scant 24 hours. By the wisdom of scoping, Wieden+Kennedy would’ve only been paid for a single day’s work.

Conversely, let’s now indulge in a bit of revisionist history, and imagine if Nike went to a different agency. Let’s call them Meh & Partners. And for argument sake, we’ll say that it took Meh & Partners three weeks to turn around their tagline, “The Ultimate in Sports Apparel.” By the laws of scoping, Meh & Partners would’ve hauled in 15 times the profit.

We’re all going to need one another to get through this. And smaller scopes definitely aren’t the answer.

This is why scoping doesn’t work, because time is a poor indicator of greatness and value. Can you imagine if other creative products were sold by time? Picture walking into a Mercedes dealership and asking how many hours it took to build the S-Class, so you can pay accordingly. Or paying Bruce Springsteen by the hour for writing Thunder Road.

If not scoping, how about performance-based compensation? You agree on a goal/KPI. Achieving anything less, the agency gets paid less. You hit the mark, then the agency gets paid in full. Overdeliver, and the agency gets bonused accordingly.

Unfortunately, such contracts are often met with resistance, naysayers claiming there are too many other factors within a marketing plan to claim that the advertising was the reason for an increase in sales. This is a cop-out, because when powerful work breaks, it literally gets cited by consumers as their reason for purchase. Also, many creative ideas are promotional, and by their very nature, directly drive sales. Plus, let’s not forget big data—everything is measurable.

Clients also avoid performance-based contracts by using the “ripple effect” excuse, claiming that part of the agency’s compensation will come in the form of repeat business and from new clients who will see this amazing work. But again, try this the next time you’re at a restaurant. Ask the manager if you can pay less because you’ll be coming back again soon, and you promise to tell some friends. Things are bound to go swimmingly.

Excuses aside, companies simply don’t want to share their profits. Why would they? We’re all conditioned to get as much as we possibly can for as little money as we can in life and in business. Yet, therein lies the greatest irony, because clients are always accusing agencies of not having their company’s best interests at heart. So what better way to ensure this than to link your destinies? It’s quite literally a win/win.

And we could all certainly use a win right about now, because, to quote Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.” And along with it are election jitters, restaurants shuttering their outdoor seating, Covid-19 cases spiking in schools and everyone stuck back in their homes, which means we’re all going to need one another to get through this. Smaller scopes definitely aren’t the answer. Instead, we’re going to need the most valuable ideas the world has ever known.


Ari Halper is founder of Sauce Idea Lab.
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