The blue boat

April 17, 2013 at 8:09 am | Posted in Business | 7 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Business marketing

Toot toot!

When I worked for advertising agencies, I heard of a client-wrangling device called ‘the blue boat’.

Though I never saw it in action, this wicked concept delighted my dark side.

Here’s how it went:

  1. If a studio thought a client was going to be tricky and picky, the creative director worked a blue boat into the campaign concept artwork.
  2. When presented with this artwork, the client invariably demanded the boat’s removal.
  3. In so doing, the client exercised power over the creative staff and felt ownership of the concept.
  4. Having showcased their expertise and stamped their authority, the client seldom felt the need to meddle with the creative process again.
  5. The campaign then proceeded smoothly.

Though guiltily attracted to this diabolical strategy, part of me thought it could be unethical and condescending.

Then again, I’ve seen ‘nightmare’ clients kill great ideas, disrespect hard working staff and otherwise throw their weight around for the sheer joy of it.

Bereft of evidence, I’d sadly concluded that blue boats must be apocryphal. Then Seth Godin wrote a post called Add some {brackets} .

Perhaps blue boats exist after all!

I’m now extremely keen to know the following:

  • As a service provider, have you ever deployed a blue boat?
  • As a client, have you ever spotted and sunk one?
  • As a reader, do you think blue boats are legitimate?
  • Are there better ways to deal with clients who display too much attitude?

Our discussion needn’t be confined to creative campaigns. It can cover pitches, tenders, letters, chats with the boss about pay rises – anything you like.

You can comment anonymously; we won’t blow your cover.

Let’s see what secrets we can raise from

the deep!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.


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  1. This happened back in the 1900s, so no need for cover, Paul. Before going freelance, I was an editor at a custom magazine publishing company, and had a client that hated the first draft of anything we sent him. So, my eventual tactic—unlike any other client—was to quickly clean up but *not* edit the draft text that came in from the freelancers. That way, he could bleed all over it and I hadn’t wasted any time. He rarely didn’t like the second draft, because I had “listened” to his feedback. (As far as he knew anyway.)

    For the record, my art director took a similar approach. For example, she’d develop 4 cover concepts and hold back her favorite. Then, after the client got all crabby about hating the 3 covers, she’d send the 4th one, which inevitably he’d think was fantastic. Good times, good times.

    • Dear Jack, I’m thrilled to bits you took the time and effort to post this marvel(l)ous comment from the other side of the planet. It’s such a thrill to know that others have seen this tactic in action. Thanks also for retweeting on Twitter. It was a great start to my day. Kind regards, P. 🙂

  2. In my experience ‘Creatives’ tend to put up 3 different ad concepts: One that is boring but on brief, one that is radical and will never get up (a blue boat?), and one that the agency likes and wants to see get up. In that order.

    • Thank you, Anon. Contributions like yours turn a speculative blog post into a fair dinkum debate. I do hope we see you again … anon! 😉

  3. If the provider pays attention in the first place maybe there would be no need for blue boats! I find the concept slightly wrong, on a deliciously cheeky way.

    • Great point, Heather! Glad you can see the funny side, too. By gum you’ve got a fascinating blog topic yourself. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Kind regards, P. 🙂

  4. I actually learnt to do this studying to become an art director in film school. Our teacher would tell us to always give the director more than one option, best three, with the one you want being the most sensible. Put it against an ugly and/or a really expensive option, and you’ll end up with your choice – the director thinking it was his.

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