How To Answer Stupidest Question In The World: 'What's The ROI On This?'

The first several dozen times I was asked the stupidest question in the world by brand marketing directors, I dutifully gave long, academic answers about the complexities of creating an equation for appropriate ROI calculation, given that the variables were many and brand value should be their most heavily weighted, but the criteria for brand value itself was an equation within an equation…

Entrepreneur that I am, I considered marketing that answer as an audiotape for sleeplessness. There was proof of concept.

So I tested another answer. It was with a casino client who knee-jerked the question at a concept presentation. We were presenting a multichannel campaign that did double duty: the core creative expression appropriately positioned their brand to targeted prospects and also deepened engagement with an important current niche.

But instead of saying “Brilliant!” she looked me in the eye. She slowly took a sip of coffee -- and stared me down. Seriously.



“What’s the ROI on this?”

The words sat heavy in the air, and then I said:


Yes. Whenever you are asked a question about the predictive yield of an IDEA, just say ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Since I have been saying ONE MILLION DOLLARS, no one asks me about ROI twice. And they stay awake for my presentations.

In my mind I’m actually screaming, “SAY IT! SAY IT! SAY ROI!” hoping they’ll hear my thoughts because I love what happens afterward so much.

Let’s take off the emperor’s clothes on ROI. For those of you reading this who don’t know the acronym, bless you. ROI is return on investment, and as benign and logical that may sound, these three letters have rolled down the C-Suite hill and sucked the life from most every provocative marketing idea in the world.

In marketing, ROI is a term that is an indicator of results in: pay-per-click (if you’re selling clicks), couponing, and closed-loop direct marketing. In other words, tactics.

It is an historical equation based on a regimented continuum with a single beginning and end (the antithesis of continuous improvement).

It has not, nor has ever been, adroit to apply results to ideation, creativity, altruism, resplendence — or, in the instance of our casino campaign, multichannel messaging that supported bringing the right people in the door.

What was the ROI on the statue “Fearless Girl”? Do you know the company who paid for Fearless Girl? Not McCann, but the client? You don’t, do you? So the ROI must be zero.

Wait, did you know that it was paid for by a company that was at the time facing a lawsuit for questionable business practices?  A (Cannes) Lion is a nice diversion, isn’t it?

Be good with the strategy, execution and historical reconstruction of ROI in non-$$$ terms. That’s brave. We need more brave in our world. More fearless girls and boys.

So the next time you’re asked, believe in your idea. ROI?

Say it with me: “ONE MILLION DOLLARS.”

6 comments about "How To Answer Stupidest Question In The World: 'What's The ROI On This?'".
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  1. Cal Simmons from Adcision Networks, December 4, 2018 at 2:50 p.m.

    Great Article.  Brilliant concept.  I cannot wait until someone asks me for the ROI and I can shoult One Million Dollars.  I'm actually working on a new concept ... and it might just make one million dollars.  Wish me luck.

  2. Ron Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, December 4, 2018 at 4:37 p.m.

    Very good articke. I was once the CMO for a cruise line that hired an attorney to be CEO. He always asked about ROI and assumed there would be a definitive answer just as there are precedents in the legal field. He expected business to have known results for certain actions as in law. 

  3. Thomas Pick from Webbiquity, December 4, 2018 at 6:51 p.m.

    So, Denise Kohnke -- this is absoltely brilliant. Awesome. I wanted to give you a hig shoutout on Twitter for this but...can't find you. Are you really not on Twitter?!

  4. Denise Kohnke from House United replied, December 5, 2018 at 2:46 p.m.

    Ha. I purposefully have been off the grid, hoping people would scream my name in the streets instead. But because of you, OK, maybe not just you, today, this afternoon, you can find me on Twitter. For the record, Twitter will be my downfall. A dark abyss of "I can't believe she said that." Thanks, in advance, for the shoutout. 

  5. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, December 6, 2018 at 10:35 a.m.

    Interesting observations Denise.  We had a causal discussion about ROI in the coffee room just a few days ago. The chat began with "wonder what internal and external data-related issues can make ROI calculations false or misleading?"  Ramblings started with "getting the internal budget numbers right and ended, some 25+ items later, with various sources of data corruption...we were going to continue, but had to return to report writing. But then we all know that ROI is a soft number...Don't we?

  6. Trevor Lakes from 1987, December 7, 2018 at 12:55 p.m.

    This is very true there are number of unseen measures of ROI not factored in lets say the money made on a deal was not much, however the exposure becuase of said deal was free advertising in a sense and becuase of that exposure you grow more business. Hard to always have all the factors however...: One Million Dollars!

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