Towards the end of my time at BMP, a few people asked me about a Toyota commercial the agency was running.

They didn’t understand what it was about.

Several people said to me, “Why is some bloke pushing Toyotas off a cliff?”

So that was the consumer’s response to the advertising.

Hold that in mind while we go through the process of how it came about.

The guys in the office next to me had written a commercial that was meant to convey Toyota’s attention to quality.

They had a script that concentrated on the fanatical pride of the Japanese in their work.

It had a Japanese man in a kimono, next to a Toyota, about to commit hara-kiri (ritual suicide with a sword).

And it said something along the lines of, “A Japanese worker cannot live with the shame of having done a sub standard job. So if a Toyota car is less than perfect he takes the only course open to him.

Which is why quality is so important to Toyota.”

They sent the script in to the ITCA (nowadays called the BACC) and it was rejected.

The reason they gave was that making fun of hara-kiri was offensive along religious, racial, and cultural lines.

Simply put, it mocked a Japanese stereotype.

The guys who wrote the script didn’t want to lose it.

So they said, “Okay, we won’t have a Japanese man committing suicide, we’ll have an Englishman.”

Then they resubmitted the script to the ITCA.

This time the ITCA rejected it on the grounds of gratuitous violence.

They didn’t want an ad to portray the gore of someone sticking a sword into their stomach.

The guys who wrote it really didn’t want to lose the script.

 So they said, “Okay, it doesn’t have to be a sword, it could be a gun.

 And the camera pans away, so we only hear the gunshot.”

And they resubmitted it to the ITCA.

The ITCA rejected it.

They said they didn’t want to make fun of any form of suicide in commercials.

By now the guys that wrote the script would do anything to hang onto it?

They said, “It doesn’t have to be a human suicide. The man who made the car could push it off a cliff instead.”

And they resubmitted it to the ITCA.

This time the ITCA accepted it.

And the commercial went ahead to pre-production.

As it was now actually going to get made, senior clients had to be involved.

Someone high up said, “We can’t run this. It makes it look as if lots of Toyotas have faults.”

The team that wrote the script were desperate not to lose it.

They said, “No, we’ll make it clear that we’re talking about only the tiniest little imperfection.”

So the final script that ran was something along the lines of an Englishman in a white boiler suit pushing a Toyota over a cliff.

While the VO said something like, “At Toyota, we’re so fanatical about quality that if a one of our cars has a slight imperfection, like a fault with the clock, we don’t let it out of the factory.”

Now to everyone involved in the process that makes perfect sense.

Everyone involved knows exactly how they got there and why.

No one questions it.

But that’s not where it’s got to work.

It’s got to work in the real world.

And in the real world, no one else knows all that.

In the real world it’s just, “Why is some bloke pushing Toyotas off a cliff?”

No one wants to lose an idea.

But sometimes the BACC makes you change the idea.

Sometimes the client makes you change the idea.

Sometimes the research makes you change the idea.

At some point it isn’t the idea anymore.

The trick is spot when that happens.

And when to walk away from the wreckage and do a new idea.