Creative Bravery: A Means to Profitable Growth

Brands must take creative risks in advertising to enter the competitive marketing industry.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Bianca Pryor will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 11-13 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.

Mosquito – literally, “little fly” in Spanish. Fingerspitzengefühl – a German term meaning “fingertips feeling.” Two loanwords we use in the English language that undisputedly describe them – well, perfectly. And, who doesn’t love that feeling when you land that perfect word to match a simulated motion, feeling or thought?  The match-up is something deeply satisfying because you get instant gratification (and a bigger vocabulary).

I recently had one of these satisfying moments after reading Ron Lenois’ Think With Google piece called “Why creative bravery is the new price of entry for brands.” Creative bravery—an expression missing from my repertoire—but, is already my most used expression around the office and in the field. It perfectly describes when a piece of creative communication pushes the limits. Maybe it makes you cry, laugh hysterically, feel uncomfortable and change your behavior. You know that feeling when you see a great ad.

Here at System1, we’ve tested a lot of ‘brave’ and not so ‘brave’ ads. Using our guide for ad profitability, we classify ‘brave’ ads as those 4 and 5-star ads we see on the upper end of the guide. These are the same ads we describe above, making you cry, laugh or change behavior. Moreover, these same ads deliver 2-3% share gain compared to 1-star ads that do not deliver any share gain. Fact: 50% of TV ads are 1-star – or not brave ads.  Let’s now overlay media spend.  If $600 billion is spent on advertising globally, then extrapolate that out to the proportion of 1-star ads. That means a daunting $300 billion is wasted on ineffective advertising every year!

So, why would brands spend more on 1-star ads which aren’t going to deliver the highest return-on-investment potential? Unfortunately, brands are responding to a tougher market where the pressure is on.  Marketing and production budgets are getting slashed.  There is a rise in activation focused-tactics or short-termism2.  ‘Digital hunts’ and extreme micro-targeting promise instant engagement with brands. The aftermath is an erosion in media effectiveness as brands no longer possess the creative bravery that drives long-term profitability and growth.

Macro trends aside, Lenois points out that at a micro level, too, “…people’s expectations rise and attention becomes harder to capture” further complicating conditions.  This makes creative bravery essential on so many levels, making it the new price of entry for brands. So, how can brands step into creative bravery?

Every year for the past five years, System1 has tested thousands of ads in search of the most emotional ads in the world for FeelMore50. In his article, Lenois discusses some themes of emotionally effective advertising that aptly reflect what emerges among the 5-star ads System1 has seen and tested:

  1. Using extremes. “The best storytelling is born of extremes—the human stories that come from the edges.” Guinness Wheelchair Basketball for its Made of More campaign from 2013 is a great 5-star example of a human story from the extremes.
  2. Drawing from inspiration from social and cultural context. Brands can draw tremendous insights on what values to stand for by taking a look at the intersection between society and culture. Last year, Canadian retailer Loblaw aired a spot to show how food can bring even the most reluctant of hearts together in President’s Choice Eat Together. Loblaw had tapped into an insight about the importance of reclaiming human contact and face-to-face time with others, which can be easily lost in our increasingly tech-obsessed world. As a result, celebrating that idea around food and the President’s Choice label proved to be a big win for the brand.
  3. Immersing in a community and letting them participate. YouTube is “the biggest reflecting pool of culture that’s ever existed…”  Lenois makes a point “these communities don’t just sit back and watch, they participate.” Tide’s Shirt Stain ad with Terry Bradshaw was on point with getting Super Bowl LI viewers to buzz about the stain on social media. It was such a hit that they even brought back the buzz for a Super Bowl LII reprise.

“Bravery is the price of entry for those looking to make a real connection with audiences,” says Lenois. And, I couldn’t agree more. It’s time for brands to go forth, be courageous, and reach for the stars. Take smart, creative risks, draw from communities and invite your consumers along for the ride – and along the way profitably grow your brand.

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Bianca Pryor

Bianca Pryor

Senior Vice President, System1 Research