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Why advertising needs clients with guts

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

In a world of super connected, super vocal and super editing consumers it's pretty clear the challenge to clients is to respond. And when you boil it down, what you need is clients with guts. You can use big words like visionary and insight but it's the guts that stand you apart.

Red Bull: a client with guts

I wanted to use the word guts, not bravery or courage. I wanted a word that felt visceral and ugly. Because that's the truth of making a real step change. It is visceral and often ugly with the occasional moment of pleasure. Having the guts means putting everything on the line and withstanding all the people telling you it won't work, seeing your career dangling by thread and buffeting the challenge of creating something new.

I was reminded of this last week when we launched the new Carphone Warehouse work with Keith Lemon. If you like the work or not is up to you, but it absolutely represents a Super Mega Step Change for them. It takes a really gutsy client to shift to investing in media with proper long-form series-based content and start producing creative work that includes masturbating unicorns in the voice of Mr T, Bros as Kendo warriors and jokes about Eric Crapton.

So often we all create ads which are actually, and frankly unbelievably, behind our consumers' culture. And that's only going to get harder as consumers have more access to more interesting stuff. It takes guts to be properly part of consumers' culture.

It was no accident that the recent Paddy Power pitch was so sought after by agencies because that client is famous for having the guts to run work that is part of culture and not behind it. It gets talked about in a world where ads don't get talked about.

Speak to HeideCohu about the Red Bull jump from space and the guts it took to stick with it. An incredible and frightening commitment of money and time delivering an execution which could have gone wrong in a life threatening type of way. But they stuck with it when almost all would have given up.

It's no accident that marketing culture provides layer upon layer of science and research to try and help give clients the guts. But in the end it never does. In the end it comes down to clients as people and businesses as cultures having guts.

A recent column in an industry magazine talked about the belief in the client community that creativity can come from anywhere and certainly not the elitist creative communities in Soho. Well time will tell if that's true, but I would venture that the biggest challenge is not getting ideas but having the guts to do something interesting. And that doesn't come from anywhere.

The great George Lois has a quote: "The world thinks the ice is two inches thick but in fact it's two feet thick." How right he is. But also how hard it is to deliver that in a world of social media where one bad stream can make your blood run cold.

We need to make a bigger deal of praising these clients. Clients that leap to brave and interesting places. There is an awful lot of brains in marketing and a lot less guts. Consumers are going to change that.

Matthew Charlton is CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He tweets @MJCharltonesq

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