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The Blue Boat

Updated on October 25, 2012

Tricky Ad Agency Ploy No. 1

When I worked for ad 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.

Have a read and see what you think ...

Here's how it went ...

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.

When presented with this artwork, the client invariably demanded the boat's removal.

In so doing, the client exercised power over the creative staff and felt ownership of the concept.

Having showcased their expertise and stamped their authority, the client seldom felt the need to meddle with the creative process again.

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!

With the blue boat ...


Without the blue boat


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!

What do YOU think?

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    • PaulHassing LM profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Hassing 

      7 years ago

      @sirkeystone lm: Wow, James! That's a fascinating insight. You must be a very fine artisan indeed. Thank you for adding your valuable perspective to this discussion. :)

    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 

      7 years ago

      As a flooring contractor I have not only issued a blue boat to clients but building inspectors and architects as well. Most end up with the conclusion that I am more of an artist than a flooring tech, and allow me total freedom on certain projects, as long as it doesn't sacrifice integrity of the project's structure.

      I have had several contractors even allow me and my wife the freedom to choose all of the flooring ourselves so they didn't have to fool with the process.

    • PaulHassing LM profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Hassing 

      7 years ago

      @Timewarp: Glad you dig. Thanks so much for saying so. It's great to hear that you're familiar with the concept too. Thank you for being my first commenter. :)

    • Timewarp profile image


      7 years ago from Montreal

      Love the blue boat concept - Ive done a similar thing with graphic design clients. If they want to choose from 2-3 options I will sometimes throw in one clearly inferior one that they will be able to reject easily.


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