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September 06, 2019

By Hamish McCollester, SVP, Group Creative Director, RAPP LA

Marketers dream of bold advertising campaigns: anthemic messages, high-impact spots, and new forms that disrupt the status quo and turn heads. But in reality, fear keeps them conservative.

Fear flows like water in most organizations. It trickles down through the ranks, from the C-suite into every department, until even the marketing team is restricted by hesitation. Eventually, that stream can make its way to the advertising agency. Standing at the bottom of this waterfall of fear, it’s easy for agencies to become timid, afraid to try new things in case their clients push back.

Of course, this fear is not entirely unfounded. Sometimes creative marketing concepts go awry — the bigger the audience, the bigger the potential disaster (remember Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi protest fail?). But when risk is often what makes a successful marketing campaign, companies need a way of embracing bold ideas.

Risk versus reward in creative advertising

Look into how to make a good marketing campaign in 2019 and you’ll notice that the most successful and memorable that have launched this year have a common denominator: risk.

Take Amazon’s recent campaign “Not Everything Makes the Cut,” which showcases celebrities testing out Alexa commands to disastrous consequences. The idea of devising an ad campaign based on the hypothetical failures of the product in question is a huge advertising risk, but it paid off because of its fun, all-in-this-together tone.

Another bold concept that paid off was National Geographic’s “Missing Cat” campaign. It used a shocking, innovative format — utilizing large-scale, physical posters that mimicked traditional “missing” posters, highlighting the plight of endangered species.

Whether it’s the content or the form that disrupts expectations, these successful marketing campaigns got people talking in all the right ways. And you don’t have to go bold with everything all at once. Balancing riskier tactics with more conservative strategies can work wonders. Some touchpoints along the customer’s journey can be quieter or more transactional, leaving room to really impress with occasional bold statements where it seems appropriate.

This is what Nike excels at with its ongoing theme, “Just Do It.” By keeping this tagline consistent and using it to build trust and rapport with consumers, the brand can then complement this theme with bold campaigns like its anniversary ads featuring controversial figure Colin Kaepernick. The underpinnings of the brand never change, and the products still deliver on their promise of self-empowerment. So even if the ads don’t resonate with everyone in its target audience, the foundation of the brand is strong enough to carry through.

Steps to improve CRM and direct response advertising

Bold advertising shouldn’t be reserved for traditional brand tactics. You can also adapt your CRM strategy and direct-response channels to attain similar levels of effectiveness and memorability, in concert with other channels. All you need to do is shift your perspective in three simple ways:

1. Re-envision CRM as a branding opportunity.

The concept of a creative ad campaign can be more intimidating if it exists only in a particular media package. Instead, try to open up your idea of what a campaign can be — spread the creativity further and incorporate bolder ideas to improve CRM strategy. Your CRM is also an opportunity to tell a bold story in a more personal way. In fact, it’s increasingly becoming your primary conduit to consumers. So don’t limit your voice.

2. Boldly use data, too.

Taking a risk with your campaign is much more manageable if you can get a picture of how effective your choices are. CRM and creative direct marketing are great ways to explore bold moves because they’re instantly measurable, which means you can take some risk out of the equation. Mine channels for insights and use them to target bold ideas where they’re most likely to fly.

3. Use versioning to practice fearlessness.

Bold campaigns feel risky when you have one shot to get them perfect, but if you give yourself a chance to build on your ideas, you can practice boldness in a safer way. Use data-driven versioning to serve up the boldest campaigns to those who you estimate will be most receptive to it, and then craft a different version to those who may not respond as well. Adapt and iterate your campaigns according to how your versions perform.

Don’t let big, bold advertising campaigns stay stuck in your dreams. Make them a reality by embracing risk-taking in thoughtful ways. Your braver efforts in CRM and direct-response marketing could help bring your brand closer to your consumers.


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