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The Importance of Bravery in Advertising

Why Advertising Needs Brave Ideas To Be Successful

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Apple 1984
Image courtesy of Yuhui

Consider this phrase from a fictional TV show, Mad Men, that is superbly written, acted and researched. It could have come straight from Bill Bernbach or David Ogilvy.

"Clients don't understand their success is reliant on standing out, not fitting in." - Don Draper

How true.

Advertising, like any other creative profession, demands a certain amount of bravery. In the art world, the risk-takers and real originals (Andy Warhol, Picasso, Damien Hirst) are the ones who become the center of attention and earn money. In movies, the greats that we remember are not the ones who made run-of-the-mill movies that made a nice amount of money. They're the visionaries who gave us films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather, and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In music, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Elvis dared to be different. They succeeded.

Bravery in Advertising

In advertising, it's the same story. Perhaps the greatest commercial of all time, and one of the most talked about, is probably the biggest risk that any advertising agency and client ever took. Of course, the client was Apple and the advertising agency was Chiat\Day, both known for taking risks and being bold. The commercial, 1984, was for a new computer. It didn't talk about product benefits, it didn't flood the screen with price bursts and tech specs. It has a simple message. It was also directed by another risk-taker, the amazing Ridley Scott, who has made some of the most important films of all time (Blade Runner being the one that redefined science fiction).

Examples of Brave Advertising Campaigns/Ideas

There have been a small percentage of great advertising campaigns over the years. Here are three of the most lauded.

"I'm a Mac, I'm a PC." - Apple
Again, a groundbreaking campaign that dared to talk about the products in a way that was human, funny and wasn't filled with glamor shots of the actual computers. It has spawned many copycats, including one from Mircosoft.

"Where's The Beef?" - Wendy's
A bunch of old ladies yelling and screaming "where's the beef?" is memorable and funny. It was almost scrapped, probably because someone said "what if they associate that with our burgers?" But, it was so successful it was recently revamped by Wendy's, for a more hip audience.

"Got Milk?" - California Milk Processor Board
It's bad grammar. It's asking a question that can be answered with a yes or no reply (a bad idea in advertising). And it's simple. Really simple. That's why it's still running, after almost 20 years. It was launched in 1993 by ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. This is, to this day, the most copied advertising campaign in history.

Bravery in Advertising is Often Trumped by Fear

It's sad but true. Most of the brave, bold, mold-breaking ideas never make it out of the first presentation. Those that do, the vast majority anyway, suffer rounds of cuts and revisions, and pass through dozens of filters. What was once like a bold, fresh coffee leaves the agency as tepid water. Here are the 10 most popular reasons that non-creative people will destroy a campaign before it's even had a chance to prove itself.

1. It's not what the competitors are doing. Well, isn't the idea to stand out and be different? Sadly, most clients and many account managers feel that you must stay within a certain boundaries when selling. The ones that break out, they then become the next ones to be copied.

2. It doesn't look or sound like an ad. Good. Then it will stand out.

3. We're not ready to take that step yet. If that's the case, you never will be. It's like being a parent. No one is ever ready, you just have to take a leap.

4. It costs too much. Does it? Think about this…is it better to spend less on an idea that no one cares about, or more on one that every talks about? ROI is about a return, not an outlay. Spend more, but have a much greater impact.

5. I don't get it. Sadly, that's one of the biggest idea killers. It's amazing how men and women in their late forties can say that, and kill a campaign aimed at tweens or Gen X. If you don't get it, maybe it's spot on.

6. We've never done that before. Well, there's no time like the present. At some point, you have to step foot on the moon.

7. Humor doesn't work. Really? Actually, humor is one of the most effective ways to reach an audience and relate to them. It just has to be done right. Of course, it's not ideal for every case, but don't rule it out because you want your product to be taken seriously.

8. It's not saying everything we want to say. There's a very funny, and truthful, parody video (stop sign) about that. When the client wants everything and the kitchen sink in the ad, it loses focus and becomes a very blunt, pointless tool.

9. We need to tone it down. The kiss of death. Most creatives would rather see the idea get put on the back burner than go out as a shadow of its former self. And rightly so. If you remove the elements that make the idea bold and brave, you're not doing it justice and you're wasting your money.

10. Can We Combine The Ideas? Ahh, the Frankenstein's monster. Account managers and clients believe they're being bold and brave by putting two or three big ideas out there, but that's the equivalent of putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the same plate. They're all battling each other, there's no focus, no clear takeaway and everyone gets lost. Suddenly three great ideas have become one homogenous disaster.

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