What is a HIPPO?
HIPPO stands for the Highest Important Person’s Personal Opinion. All of us will have experience of this and many of us would have been the HIPPO ourselves (in many cases it’s our jobs – Planning Directors, Creative Directors, marketing Directors and so on). This is the opinion or view that trumps everyone else’s, sometimes with merit, sometimes not. It usually results in one course of action being taken as opposed to another.
In many cases there’s nothing wrong with a HIPPO. They’re the senior person and their employer is paying them to make good decisions using their experience and judgement. And that would be fine if it stayed like that.
So what have we got against HIPPOs?
First, there are too many of them.
Judging creative ideas is not like most business problems – it’s very subjective and its very hard to predict the likely development path and eventual efficacy of a creative idea. What you don’t need is a lot of people’s opinions at different stages on the creative development journey. What you need is a few experienced experts to help guide the development – but this is exactly what doesn’t happen in many cases.
In fact there’s often a line of HIPPOs all taking their turn to influence the outcome. There’s the Planning HIPPO, the creative HIPPO, the agency HIPPO, the client teams marketing HIPPO and ultimately the clients’ board’s HIPPO. There are also numerous manager-HIPPOs along the way. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of HIPPOs – a bloat of ‘em in fact.
Second, agendas are not always aligned around effectiveness.
The other problem with HIPPOs is that somewhere along the line objectivity can be lost – there are numerous agendas at play and, in our experience, the ruthless pursuit of the most effective idea can be relegated. Relegated to concerns such as ‘what’s this going to do for our agency shop window’ or ‘will my friends at the golf club like it’ or ‘maybe it’s a step too far for this year’.
Third, inappropriate HIPPO’s or concerns can derail campaigns.
Sometimes inappropriate HIPPOs can bust their way into the bloat. Not that CFOs don’t have valid opinions but should their call really trump that of the marketing director about a marketing idea (this happens a lot by the way)? This is because as it’s a subjective advertising call anyone can have an opinion and it is quite hard to justify one over another.
Fourth, too many HIPPOs result in watered down, mediocre advertising.
We’ve seen many personal opinions (that often don’t reference the likely target audience reaction) get in the way of effective campaigns – often watering an idea down, or playing percentages so that everyone accepts it. The result is you can can defend it, but it’s mediocre and will cost more media money to have the same effect. That can’t be right.
Advertising by committee is not the way to get the most effective work.
How do we overcome the HIPPO?
Well, it’s probably impossible to overcome HIPPOs entirely, but it is possible to reduce their influence in the creative process. Here’s how we do it.
1. Reduce the bloat by bringing key informed decision makers into one process.
2. We have effectiveness as the only agenda.
3. Arm the marketer with more evidence to convince the board.
How do we do this?
Having a very clearly defined process about how the ideas on the table get chosen and developed, is crucial. Streamlining it to remove all superfluous meetings is another key factor. We find that in total, we actually only need three meetings with the client to get the best work approved – a session to agree on the objectives and the brief, our Co-lab session where ideas are selected and developed with outside experts, and the final approval meeting where developed ideas are chosen for further validation or production.
Key to sticking to our principles is the Co-lab session where we, the client and outside effectiveness experts go through ideas together, assess them with effectiveness in mind and identify areas for development. What this meeting does is shortcut lots of other meetings with other HIPPOs, focuses the agenda on effectiveness and usefully provides the client with plenty of information about why one idea might be more effective than another. It also adds weight to their own opinion if a set of experts all stand behind a particular creative option.
These sessions should be run with the marketing decision makers, otherwise we are introducing more HIPPOs.
How’s that different from a normal client agency presentation?
In normal versions of these meetings there is a strong selling dynamic as the agency wants to convince the client that their ideas are correct and the agency is brilliant. Our session is more like a workshop and is removes the un-useful selling dynamic in three ways:
1. the presence of outside experts
2. the much greater number of ideas on the table
3. the fair assessment of each idea against the objectives
This combines to give a meeting truly focussed on selecting and developing the best work. It also defines any future research objectives – so it acts as a very efficient use of a client’s time.
The client approval meeting can then be much smoother as genuine concerns will be addressed or understood and research findings can be accommodated as well.
Is there a better way? If there is we’ll find it, but until then we think it’s the best way yet of reducing the size of inappropriate HIPPOs because sometimes, just sometimes, the CFO’s wife is not the best judge of a campaign for teenagers’ milkshake.