Advertising Creativity Marketing Services

It pays for advertising agencies to be brave

By Joe Wade | founding partner

July 21, 2017 | 5 min read

After reading Phil Adams’ well-articulated piece last Friday ['Why bravery in advertising is a bad idea'] I have to say he’s wrong.

Joe Wade

Advertising that plays it safe produces nothing but a ripple in a stagnant pond and means that brands go unnoticed.

The real value is in courting controversy and not being afraid of being ‘offensive’ in a smart way. Instead of a ripple, create a tidal wave for brands. Being extreme cuts through the noise and creates consumer conversations.

In September, Tecate Light, a light beer brand in the US, debuted a bold new TV commercial called ‘The Wall’ surrounding the first presidential debate. The campaign shone a spotlight on the brand’s protagonist, the Black Eagle, as it soared above a small Mexican border town separated from the US by a ‘wall’. Taking a risk paid off: it’s now the fastest growing light beer in the US after making headlines. The campaign also created a buzz on Twitter with the top five influencers interacting with #TecateBeerWall obtaining more than ten thousand followers each. All of this adds positively to brand awareness.

Using outrage is not new; but the paradigm we are in now is. Audiences are more polarised than ever before and quicker to take offence – and, thanks to the internet, they can act on it at once. This presents opportunities for brands willing to take creative risks and threatens those that play it too safe to matter.

Adams may believe ‘bravery’ is a bad word, but how else do you describe an advert that taps into the phenomenon of outrage? Or challenges the status quo, when everyone else is pedalling vanilla content? Ultimately, this type of material will upset someone. But if done right, it will engage the people that matter.

The problem comes when brands can’t see that their boring, meaningless content isn’t stimulating, because of the ‘views’ that can be generated when a few million quid is pumped into Facebook and YouTube. We need to stop pulling the wool over brands’ eyes and focus on the real metrics that actually show whether people engaged with content. It is incredibly hard to get anyone to share, comment or like something that prompts no opinion or viewpoint.

Consumers love controversial opinions that teeter on the edge of what is acceptable, (see: any Saturday Night Live skit, ever). It is what gets shared and talked about. A bit of gossip. We need to create two-way conversations, and that’s impossible if you are dribbling out blandness or serving ads to people that do not care. We need to build content that makes waves and divides opinion. The brain is built to ignore the old and focus on the new. Brands need to cash in on this and realise that it pays to be brave.

And embrace the controversy.

I speak from some experience. A skit, ‘Real Housewives of Isis’, for BBC 2 series Revolting, which I co-wrote, irked the Daily Mail and even started petitions on and 38 degrees. It has since become the BBC’s eighth most shared clip ever.

While creating brave and outrageous content cuts through, I am not suggesting that this works for every brand. Audience and market position are two big things that need to be factored into the equation.

A difficult, but worthwhile hurdle to jump, is convincing your client that being brave is a good idea. Challenger brands, start-ups and brands with very little personality have the best market positioning to grab outrage by the balls and push themselves and what they stand for to the edge of what is deemed appropriate.

So, if you are sick of not getting enough bang for your buck, forget big budgets and don’t listen to Phil. Be brave. It will get you one step closer in the competitive race to the top.

Joe Wade is managing director and co-founder of Don't Panic

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