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  • Mark Hallander

Brand Bravery – a key to creativity in advertising

Scientific studies prove that standout creative ideas perform better than the ordinary. But science also shows that marketers are subconsciously hardwired to avoid taking risks, which explains a universal tension at the heart of the ad industry. In the following, I will dive into brand bravery in the marketing and advertising industry, as well as give you some core advice to encourage creativity in the organization.

#brandbravery #marketing #creativity #advertising #agency


Is brand bravery tied to having a cause?

To put a few words on the term, I see brand bravery as the marketing organization's ability to break means with traditional ways of communicating to the market. Whether it is by launching a daring new campaign or taking a leap into a new solution based on just gut feeling. We have without a doubt seen pressure rise on companies to do better, integrating a purpose, communicating CSR-initiatives, or stating a cause other than just making money. However, I don't see bravery as isolated to mere cause marketing, although it can be considered brave to bring closer the business to social or political causes. I see it more from a creative point of view, as the standout daring solution we make.

What is affecting creative ‘bravery’ in the industry?

There are a few challenges that we can highlight as the basis of lacking bravery in the industry. A very common one is budget limitations that cause less room for creative experimentation.


However, the main influencer here is not restricted to money. It comes down to core incentives for which each stakeholder - involved in developing the communication - are operating within. In economics, we refer to this tension as the Principal-Agent Problem. The problem occurs when the Principal creates an environment in which the Agent's incentives do not align with the Principals. A very common example of this force is found in the client-agency relationship, where the client (Principal) is very risk-averse in working with the brand, and the agency (Agent) is more inclined to challenge the DNA of the brand with new creative concepts.


Management can be too quick to label creative ideas as too risky, and while this might be in the best of interest, it represents a challenge, because conformity becomes a disadvantage. Thus, marketers must remember to take risks if they want to create distinctiveness in the market. Indifference is most certainly a lonely place for your marketing to end up.


But why are we not brave?

The short answer is uncertainty. When we are confronted with new ideas, it becomes primal – we actually don’t even know that we are against it and our subconsciousness lets the idea down before we can think it through. This is also referred to as the Ellsberg paradox, which means that we prefer an option that we know the outcome of, rather than an option in which the outcome is unknown.


In creative development, we unfortunately tend to retrieve the safe option, which does not always allow us to work on the best creative ideas.


So how do we encourage systematic, brave creativity?

For one, we need to remember that creative idea generation is hard to isolate, and it does not only happen at work. Often it happens in our subconscious mind. In the 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, found that our ability to think creatively and generate innovative ideas was enhanced when we enter more relaxed environments.


Have you ever experienced that a work-related idea hits you at the most peculiar time? When jogging, driving out on a Sunday or in the middle of the night? His theory on The three Bs (bed, bath, bus) covers this concept of operating in peak mental capacity while off work.


However, in proactively encouraging brave creativity, we need to work with creating the right set-up in the organizational culture. You can follow these three principles:


1) Use a common language

When working with creativity, be careful not to make it "us and them". Don't separate people into “creatives” and “non-creatives”. Break down the silos, emphasize a "We"-culture, and create a common language to follow. An easy fix in dealing with a common language is by implementing more feedback-oriented conversations. Creativity can be a very subjective matter, so evade unfulfilling feedback like "I don't like this", and use instead "this doesn't get to me, because of X, Y, and Z".

2) Forge habits

Creativity can be viewed as a muscle – as much as a mindset – that relies on stimulation and inspiration. This means that we need brave disruptive stories that can be embedded into the organizational language and culture. We need to forge the habits that explore creativity. It could be that you create a Creativity Masterclass in order to have a forum for discussion, or start a newsletter to better embed best-in-class examples of creativity. Just remember to be patient and trust the process - it takes time to become good at it.

3) Brief for bravery and empower people

Additionally, you should not just accept ordinary work. Agencies should be able to explore what great creativity could look like, and marketers should give them the means to do so. You need to give people the freedom to accomplish these things - tell people what to do and let them surprise you with the results. Don't micromanage. And finally, remember that different backgrounds may be a key differentiator. Homogenous organizations don’t create the best work – culturally diverse ones do.

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