“I have heard that any fool can write a bad ad, but it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.” (Mr. Leo Burnett)
Oscar Wilde said: An idea that does not involve risk does not deserve to be an idea.
Risks and responsibility in advertising
“An idea that hasn’t been done before might, on the surface, look really risky, argues Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi. It’s an area where no one has been before. There is no precedent. But usually the biggest risk lies in ideas that are predictable, because ideas that are predictable don’t get noticed. You can’t sell anything to anyone unless they notice you. To get a boring ad noticed, you’ve got to run it lots and lots of times. If you’ve got a really original message, you only need to run it a few times. People retain the message longer and it costs the client less.
People think the low risk thing is not to run the high risk idea, observes Stow. The biggest risk is to be safe, because if you’re safe you’re invisible and you waste your money.
A lot of creative people think creative risk-taking means doing stuff that scares the life out of you, says Singapore creative director Garry Abbott. The leaders of the industry, the Tim Delaneys and people like that, come up with things that are completely new which come out of nowhere; certainly not from last year’s award books. They don’t rely on borrowed ideas. Risk is about freshness. Ideas you haven’t seen before. They give everyone a buzz, and they give the consumers a buzz because they’re regaled with the sameness of advertising. Risk is about breaking rules. Abbott believes advertising should not have many rules. We are supposed to be on the cutting edge of communications, yet we keep falling back on the same old things.
Risks must be taken at two levels, advises Mackay. One is the risk of listening to the consumer, because when we hear what the consumer is thinking and feeling and dreaming, it might not coincide with our preconceptions. Going to the consumer and saying, tell me your story so I can really see what it’s like to be you so I can respond to that, is a risk that creative people and clients are rarely prepared to take fully. The second risk? I would define creativity as taking a set of familiar elements and rearranging them in an unfamiliar way so that the audience recognises both the familiarity and the unfamiliarity. In other words, present something the audience will recognise as themselves, their lives, their dreams, but with a twist, so they’re actually a bit startled by it, or will get an extra insight from it. So it’s not just a mirror, it’s a mirror that’s craked. The safe thing is to say ‘Well, the consumer said I like X, Y and Z, so let’s show them X, Y and Z’. But that’s not creativity; that’s journalism. Creativity is saying that’s what the consumer feels, that’s the dream, that’s the aspiration, that’s the raw material we’re working with. Now we have to be creative with it, or we’ll just be part of the bland advertising landscape and not be noticed”
Jim Aitchison, “Cutting Edge Advertising”, Prentice Hall, 1999, p. 33-34.
Further reading: you can find a short review of this awesome book here.