The Dangers of Safety

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The Dangers of Safety

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The above cartoon sums up about 90% of advertising today. It’s an incredibly bizarre phenomenon, since marketing education continues to support the idea that edgy, bold decisions pay off. Seth Godin’s popular TED Talk on “How to get your ideas to spread” can be reduced to a two-word mantra that has resounded throughout the industry: “Be remarkable.” Yet despite 4.5 million views, few marketers seem to take his words to heart. Sure, every year brings new innovative and emotionally-charged campaigns, but few and far between the regular fodder that dominates the marketing world.

It doesn’t fall strictly on agencies either. Anyone that’s worked in advertising has rode into a client meeting on a wild stallion, fierce and driven, only to come out on a gelded mule, the "safe” option. Brands bear equal responsibility to push creative boundaries and step outside their comfort zone, or risk being completely ignored. And why shouldn’t they be ignored? Hasn’t anyone at GM or Ford realized that every car commercial is a slight variation on every other car commercial? We can only see so many sports cars cutting close turns on a winding road through a beautiful countryside/mountain/desert before all we’re seeing is a blank screen.

It’s understandable: Brands are proud of their products, and they want to communicate clearly the benefits and features of said product. But in the internet age, all of that information is just a click or two away. Information is one of the most useless attributes of advertising due to the sheer quantity and clutter of it all. Consumers are pounded with product information during a large portion of their waking hours, but what will they remember? Something that made them smile, laugh, cry, maybe even shocked them a little. One ad I saw recently comes to mind: Klarna is an e-payments service, similar to Venmo, Square Cash, Google Wallet, PayPal, Apple Pay, Dwolla-- I could go on. So what would Klarna stand to gain by spouting off features and benefits that make it different (read: similar) than other e-payment services? Nada, which is why they went with this instead:

Hypnotic, mesmerizing, and worthy of remark. Instead of bogging down the audience, they entertain while still managing to communicate a key concept of their product. Creating an ad like this, that generates buzz, goes further than the most meticulously crafted spot meant to reach a specific target, because buzz pervades everything. Just look at Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video-- a rap music video for the sub-30 crowd became a nationwide meme sensation, spawning ads and entertainment alike. So don’t be afraid to take risks and unconventional paths to reach new heights, because chances are the safe, stagnant route is causing more harm than potentially polarizing roads ever could.

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