If you’ve not heard of it, it derives from a Chinese practice of torture where people were subjected to several knife cuts to remove portions of their bodies. In the context of advertising it refers to numerous small changes that are made to the original idea thus losing the idea altogether.
Dealing with changes and ‘constructive criticism’ is always difficult because you’ve lived with the idea for so long and you were part on its birth. So the thought that you may have been wrong or the idea not good enough is never easy to take.
But a project whereby the initial idea is (seemingly) bought, only for then to be 20 rounds of amends and the end product to not look anything like the idea you started with is much more difficult to take.
However, when you look at it objectively what does it say about the idea? Maybe the idea simply wasn’t good/clear enough, maybe it wasn’t sold properly by you (an issue which grows as the people you presented to present their version to other – think chinese whispers), or maybe you are dealing with imbeciles.
Likelihood is that the real reason is somewhere between the first two, but agencies will always see try to blame it on number 3 – and sometimes we’re right.
But the real question is not whose fault it is. The question is how do you deal with it? Do you allow the interminable rounds of amends to continue or do you take the bull by the horn and have an honest chat to your client about whether you need to go back to the drawing board.
A compromised solution solves nothing and rarely works so I would always opt for the latter.