Is it right enough to be wrong?
A view from Charles Vallance

Is it right enough to be wrong?

This is the question you should ask yourself at the start of the creative journey.

Given that my last column was titled "Is it wrong enough to be right?", it may seem a little contrary to follow it up with this month's sequel: "Is it right enough to be wrong?" But, fear not, this is no semantic game. Taken together, these are the only two questions you ever really need to ask in the creative process. You just need to ask them at the right time and in the right order.

"Is it wrong enough to be right?" is the question you should ask towards the end of the creative journey. Does the idea have a snag in it? Is there an element of friction, oddness or lunacy that will make it memorable? We work in a business where we have to fight harder and harder for attention, but often we shrink from the idea of forcing our audience to make any cognitive effort. Which is why quite a lot of ads fall at the first hurdle of getting noticed.

This month's new question, on the other hand, is about the start of the process. This stage is sometimes seen as more strategic as opposed to creative – in which case, again, there is a good chance that the end product will be distinctly mediocre. You seldom get to a brilliantly creative output without a brilliantly creative input.

OK, that's enough of the abstract theorising. To make things a little more concrete, I would like to refer back to two of the examples I used last month. Then I'll tell a mother-in-law joke.

To illustrate a "wrong" endline, I used "The future's bright, the future's Orange". At the time, this was a semi-ridiculous claim. What kept it from being wholly ridiculous was the brilliance of its creative underpinning. This was a vision of the future where you'd call people, not places, and where everyone would have their own personal device that they'd carry around with them wherever they went. In making this observation, Hans Snook (the founder and chief executive of Orange) had foreseen the future. Having been so right, he had bought himself the permission to be judiciously wrong in execution. 

Almost 20 years later, the Cellnet/MMO2 team behind the genesis of O2 bought their brand similar licence. By recognising that the mobile phone was becoming an essential part of life, almost like the air we breathe, they relaunched their service as a kind of digital oxygen and rebranded accordingly. O2, its identity and its activations were set free to do any number of "wrong" things, not least to sponsor the Dome, which no-one else would go near with a bargepole. There is nearly always a perfect logic to illogical decisions. You just have to look for it.

But often we don't look that hard. Rightness, discipline, accuracy and syntax are frequently underestimated as creative tools. When asked the secret of comedy, Charlie Chaplin reputedly gave a one-word answer: "Logic." At first glance, this may seem paradoxical. But then think of anything that makes you laugh. It nearly always involves a beautifully inverted logic. Without intellectual rigour, things tend not to be funny at all. (For a good example of this in practice, go to, which gives you a crash course on the narrative arc for stand-up. It takes a lot of discipline to give the impression of anarchy.)

Last month I mentioned Vic Reeves' farcical line for Boost: "It's slightly rippled with a flat underside." Ironically, what makes this line farcical is its utter accuracy. Those of you who are Boost devotees will instantly be able to picture both the flatness of its underside and the ripplyness of its surface. Had Vic described it as "somewhat curly and floral in outline", there would have been no accuracy, no logic and thus no tittering.

I'm aware that I haven't yet told my mother-in-law joke. So here goes:

Man walks into a bar: "Triple whisky, please."
Barman: "Certainly, sir."
Man: "Mind you, I shouldn't really be drinking this with what I've got."
Barman: "Oh dear, what's that?"
Man: "Fifty pence."

Right enough to be wrong enough to be right. And much funnier when my mother-in-law tells it. Funnily enough, she found it in the Ealing parish magazine. 

Charles Vallance is founder and chairman of VCCP