Brand Strategy Agency Leadership Marketing

Out with brand safety, in with brand bravery: Let’s forget the ‘safe’ word in 2024

By Matt Kissane, Global executive director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

January 19, 2024 | 7 min read

Brand safety is over, says Landor’s Matt Kissane. Here’s his manifesto for 2024 as a year of bravery and risk-taking.

A stack of blue and white dice on a red background

2024: the time for brands to take risk? / Milos Tomasevic via Unsplash

This year is going to be a lot.

Peak democracy. AI on steroids. Ever more divisive geopolitics. And whatever black swan event is waiting in the wings to give us a collective nervous breakdown.

With all that in play, is 2024 going to leave us any bandwidth for brands? It’s going to take something pretty spectacular to pull focus.

That’s why, in the sea of New Year predictions, the only bet I’m making this year is that the winners of ‘24 are going to be the brands that let go of the safe word.

No more mid. A whole lot more risk.

Calvin Klein, Barbie, and brand bravery

Just look at the biggest brand story of ’24 so far: Calvin Klein, Jeremy Allen White, and FKA Twigs. Coming out of the gate swinging with sex and swagger has put CK back at the heart of the cultural conversation.

It’s not like this is some bolt from the blue. Brand safety’s moment is over.

The writing has been on the wall since last summer. When July rolled around, Barbie in a calculated but high-stakes move steamrolled everything in sight and won 2023 in the process.

The scene from the trailer where Barbie looms large over all the other dolls was the perfect visual metaphor for the 6 months that followed. Half a year that the world’s collective brand and marketing community spent in her shade.

This year, the imitations will come thick and fast, of course. But it’s unlikely that many (if any) will pull off the same feat. Because while brands want Barbie’s 10x result, few are willing to take her 10x risk.

Mattel succeeded in hijacking the zeitgeist by doing probably the single scariest thing any marketing professional could dream of: it threw the brand safety manual in the trash, doused it with a canister of gas, and set fire to decades of heavily enforced brand positivity.

The brand recognized that to move boldly into the future, and reintroduce Barbie to the world, she needed a full-blown existential crisis. It accepted that magic was to be found in years of irrational feelings – some positive, many negative – that people had about Mattel. Then it swerved just as hard into what made the brand problematic and vulnerable as it did into what made it aspirational and bankable.

In an era where the algorithm can do ‘mid’ well, brands are going to have to get comfortable playing it unsafe if they want to be remarkable.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

Saying no to the safe word

Embracing risk can’t, of course, be formulaic. But it does mean embracing some basic principles.

First, be different above being relevant. Any algorithm worth its salt will tell you how to conform, but the brands that attract attention are going to be the ones that step outside the algorithm, privileging difference above all else.

Second, seek out irrational responses. However much we tell ourselves we’re in control of our faculties, we all know that, deep down, our system-one brains are in the driving seat. Brands need to appeal to our most emotional, irrational, nonsensical sides to hack system-one decision-making and become truly no-brainer choices.

Third, cater to every sense. Branding doesn’t need to be more complicated than: you see it and you know; you hear it and you know; you smell it and you know; you feel it and you know. Focus on building out your experience in every sensory facet.

And, finally, lean into beautiful imperfection and vulnerability. No one believes in your brand’s over-engineered perfection anymore. The world is too messy for that. Embrace the weaknesses and oddities that make your brand what it is.

Brand Strategy Agency Leadership Marketing

Content by The Drum Network member:


We are Landor. World-leading brand specialists. Consulting. Design. Experience.

Connecting business strategy to brand.Bringing every facet of brand to life.Creating...

Find out more

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +