Who’s to blame? Creatives!

Dalibor Šumiga Behavioral marketing/Neuromarketing, Marketing

If you’ve ever attended any coaching session, leadership conference, or simply read on the topic of leadership, chances are you’ve encountered the story of the 3 envelopes.

There are multiple versions, but here I’ll tell the one I’ve heard…


A manager that’s just come into a new company receives 3 envelopes from his predecessor along with an advice to open an envelope every time the results aren’t good.

After a while, the first result crysis comes and the manager decides to open the first envelope which contains a message: “Say that I, your predecessor, am to blame for the bad result…”

Much to the surprise of the hero of our story, this strategy turns out good and everyone accepts this argument.

But, after a while, there comes another result crysis and the manager decides to open the second envelope in which he finds a message: “For everything that’s bad, blame your colleagues, your suppliers, bad processes…”

The strategy works yet again.

Not too much time goes by, another crysis comes and the manager decides to open the last envelope, and in it he finds the message: “Write the text for the 3 envelopes”


The story of the 3 envelopes is a vivid description of a dysfunctional organization in which most business decisions are brought based upon feeling and subjective impression. Very often, we see these types of  situations in marketing.

Even though it seems easier to say not everything can be measured in marketing, we are actually hurting ourselves the most with this kind of attitude because creative work is left to the creative judgement of anyone, very often your client (if you are an agency), or of your superior, whose subjective impression has more power because of their better position in the hierarchy.

When it comes to neuromarketing, I’ve been asked a couple of times by creatives: “Why should we measure the efficiency of our campaigns when we’ve been pitching our ideas without a problem so far?” or “What will happen if the research shows that the creative isn’t good?”

The answer is very simple – you’re doing it because of yourself, not because of the clients or your superiors. I would surely like to know if the shoppers got my idea and whether or not they liked it. Why? Because I want to be even better at what I do, and because in the end, the sales will show if the campaign was successful or not. And here is where the story of the 3 envelopes comes into play – everyone will find an alibi why a campaign was not successful, but up until the moment where we all have to write the text for the 3 envelopes.


A few years back I found a study conducted in Japan (for which I unfortunately cannot find the source) in which the respondents were tasked with writing examples of fair and unfair behavior. An interesting pattern emerged in the examples – in the “fair” ones,  the pronoun “I” was mostly present, and in their unfair counterparts,  the pronoun “They/others”.

There are countless examples showing how bad we are at self evaluation which is why it is essential that everything we do is quantifiable.

Let’s take creative work in marketing as an example, even though we cannot give an exact estimation of how many working hours it takes for a certain idea, the fact is that there are deadlines and that there is a budget within which we have to work out a specific creative concept.

If the budget leaves you with a maximum of 10 working hours for working out an idea, and you spend 40 working hours, no matter how good an idea is, there won’t be anyone to pay for the project…

It’s the same situation when it comes to internal communication within the team. If you don’t measure the time needed for creative work, you don’t have a tangible argument for coming to your superior and saying: “I’m overloaded with projects.”

Time is the only resource you can’t get back which makes it so precious, yet so neglected in business – unnecessary meetings, unnecessary calls, micro management of things which have no predictive value or little influence on the end result…

In that name, here’s a quote you should set as a wallpaper on your laptop: