Brand Bravery

It’s annoying, isn’t it, when agencies bang on to clients about being “braver”. In my experience, clients react quite badly when you imply the reason they’re not buying your game-changing creative idea is their cowardice. Rather than their good sense, for example, or unwillingness to gamble millions of pounds’ worth of revenue.

But here’s a reason brands should be brave: peacocks.

If you’re interested in evolutionary theory, some of the most fascinating bits are the condundrums, like how eyes have evolved when half an eye wouldn’t work, or why we grieve after death.

And one of the stupidest conundrums in the animal kingdom, from a Darwinist perspective, is the peacock’s tail.

It’s big. It’s cumbersome. It offers no survival advantage at all, and lots of costs: easy for predators to spot, hard to keep clean (I imagine), and not easy to run with.

But the “peacock theory” suggests its stupidity is exactly why it’s evolved. If you’re a peacock, and you’ve managed to survive this long with a great big pointless tail, you must be (forgive me) quite some cock.

In other words, stupid displays of bravery make you attractive, because they show others that you’re strong.

I think that kind of bravery is quite interesting from a brand point of view.

If brands take certain visible risks, it can be a good thing. When Google visibly try, and fail, with new products, it says they care more about innovation than cost control – a powerful statement of their values.

When Apple bring out a product with no visible market, it says “we understand human interaction better than humans”.

When Henry Ford said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse, he’s telling everyone from shareholders to history writers that he doesn’t need focus groups, because he’s a visionary.

When pretty much any brand does something “offensive”, it says it’s certain enough of its appeal among a certain group that it doesn’t have to worry about pleasing the masses.

Bravery implies strength. But it has to be bravery about the right things.

Risking people’s lives, or your ideals is not good. Cavalier pharma companies aren’t strong and admirable, they’re just cavalier and dangerous. But risking your own personal safety, or your own bottom line, is fine.

So brands should be brave. But they should be brave selectively, in a way that’s driven by principle. They should appear to play maverick with their cash flow. They should try stuff that’s well-intentioned but might not work. Then talk about it. They should prototype publicly.

And maybe agencies should try taking some risks too. Rather than asking our clients to buy “braver” work, maybe we should bet on it financially. That’s a far more credible idea of bravery than the one we usually mean…

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