Silver Celebrates the Success of Failure

NEW YORK Eric Silver gave a lighthearted tour through failure—his and others—to close out the Adweek Creative Seminar in New Orleans today.

Distinguishing between active and passive failure, Silver, executive vice president and group creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, defined passive failure as “succumbing to the norm,” while active failure involved taking chances and being vulnerable. That kind of “good” failure can lead to success.

Silver showed several examples of ads he had created, mostly while he was creative director at Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York, where he worked from 1997-2003. He deemed the ads failures because they did not win awards and “tended to be greeted by the general public with the sounds of chirping crickets.” Two of these, he noted, had been selected by Adweek for a feature on the worst advertising over the past 10 years: a Midas ad showing an old lady flashing a Midas employee, and a Fox Sports promo featuring Mike Tyson cuddling a baby.

“I think the lesson here is pretty obvious,” Silver said. “The back of a really old woman and the front of Mike Tyson are just way too disturbing.”

Silver chronicled historical failures—the Titanic, the Betamax, communism, Prohibition—before discussing why failure is important to creatives. Saying that creatives should risk failure to remain true to ideas they believe in, Silver illustrated his point by showing an excerpt from HBO’s Mr. Show, a program that could have failed, but because it was so inventive and original, it ended up being successful.

Silver urged creatives to “raise the bar” and create commercials that are “compelling and relevant.” He made a point of saying this did not mean creating “crazy, wacky commercials,” just ones that are out of the ordinary. As examples, he cited award-winning commercials like Fallon’s “Squares,” a Volkswagen commercial that compared the round shape of the Beetle to square objects; Goodby, Silverstein & Partner’s “Sheet Metal,” which showed people without their cars; and Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s “Lamp” for Ikea, shot from the point of view of a discarded lamp.

“All three sucked you in and demanded your attention,” Silver said.

Urging creatives to take chances, to risk failure for success, Silver ended with a quote from hockey legend Wayne Gretsky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”