flowers are red young man


The teacher put him in a corner
She said.. It’s for your own good..
And you won’t come out ’til you get it right
And are responding like you should
Well finally he got lonely
Frightened thoughts filled his head
And he went up to the teacher
And this is what he said.. and he said

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

–From Harry Chapin’s "Flowers Are Red"

We had to kill all the really good ideas before clients even got to see them. It always happened that way in advertising, no matter how solid our defense of our ideas, because at the end of the day, people just wanted to keep their jobs. They wanted to present ideas that pushed ever so slightly but still fell within a safety zone. And I’m sure that clients everywhere feel bored instead of dazzled, they want you to push it, they say things like "out of the box," but I wonder, what if you give them a few steps beyond their safety zone? Do they really want what they say they want, or do they deep down just want what’s safe and easy. Clearly, I’m not just talking advertising anymore. When should you fight, and when should you just shrug and give ’em what they want?



  1. i think it depends on what you're talking about, and i'm not sure the situation you're referring to. how important is it? who's involved? how important is it to them? some people don't change, some folks say they want one things and mean another, some needs you have are more about you than anything else and sometimes that's selfish and sometimes thats just right.

  2. Wow, I haven't thought about that song since I was in camp in the late 70s. It's even more depressing to read the lyrics as an adult because I now understand them better. I guess each of us needs to decide for ourselves when we're comfortable pushing the boundaries and when we'd rather play it safe and roll over.

  3. Wow! I'm in advertising and just a few minutes ago in a meeting the same thought crossed my mind when good creative was killed in favor of the safe.

  4. Looking at it from an advertising perspective:

    I was assigned to one large account. My client always wanted to see the most "out of the box; pushing the limits" campaigns. At the end of the presentations, they'd tell us they were "mediocre". It was lose-lose no matter how you looked at it. Play it safe, they weren't happy either.

    Ugh, and even though I was in a round of layoffs at the agency, I'm still happier now than I was in that job.

  5. As a lawyer, I fight with people all day every day. But still, I have to pick my battles. I apply the same principal in my personal and professional life. I am reasonable, always willing to listen to the other side, and compromise when I feel that I can do so without compromising my client's position or my values. But, if there is something I feel strongly enough about, I fight for it. The result is that the other side knows if I'm putting up a fight, I'm not going to back down. I'm taken seriously, and I'm more likely to get what I fight for.

    In other words, compromise where you can and fight for what matters. Only you know where to draw that line.

  6. I've always had a problem with this one too. Learning to pick your battles is not an easy skill. I usually ask myself how I feel after I make my decision and will this decision somehow affect my life 1 year from now if it was wrong? I've learned that going with my gut and staying in line with being the person I like to think I am usually works out. And if it doesn't then, at least I stood up for myself.

  7. As a long-time advertising creative (and now strategist) here's my perspective: At the end of the day our job is to sell. Advertising is NOT art but unfortunately many creatives think it is. What this leads to is too much self-indulgent crap that the art director thinks is really cool but which doesn't meet the needs of the brand.

    The solution? Think innovatively but also strategically. I think this applies to pretty much anything in life. Instead of getting mired in old ways of thinking propose new solutions rather than buckling under pressure to conform. And BE FLEXIBLE – if one way doesn't work let it go and come up with something else – never stalk off in a huff because you didn't get your way – look for a new approach.

  8. this post couldn't have come at a better time.
    is always tough when the "grey" area presents itself in shades of monochrome. i'd never leave anything for the return trip especially when it comes to jobs. with layoffs and all…

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