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Are There Rewards for Taking Risks in Marketing?

By Jul 23, 2013

By Ben Padley

A good CMO will be willing to take creative risks in marketing if they have the potential to enhance a brand’s image, generate positive publicity and increase profits. Daring to be different can be nerve wracking and may unsettle internal stakeholders, but the rewards can be significant.

A recent example of successful risk taking is the promotional video for the launch of the Fiat 500L. Featuring a harassed mother in a messy house besieged by young kids, she raps ironically about her world, mentioning sleepless nights, eating leftover fish fingers and breastfeeding. It is far from the usual depiction of cars cruising through beautiful scenery, and it was reported that male board members at Fiat were initially dubious about using the video, which was produced by Krow Communications. Yet once the video was released it went viral within a week and has currently been viewed over four million times on YouTube.

Of course, you can’t talk about risk taking in marketing without mentioning Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner. In October 2012 Baumgartner dropped from the edge of space to set a world record for the highest free fall. But as he whirled through the air, he and Red Bull were also delivering a risk taking master class. Imagine the tragedy, outcry and damage to the brand if the jump had ended differently! Why on earth would Red Bull take that risk? These questions, and more, would have been raised at the initial discussion phase, but at some point someone said yes. And in doing so Red Bull assured its place in history, outshone the competition and proved that it gets closer to giving you space wings than any other brand.

Although some creative ideas are a resounding success, others are thinly disguised gimmicks and it takes a good marketing director to tell the difference. Take for example, the New York real estate company that recently implemented a novel ‘incentive scheme’ for employees. The scheme involves offering employees a guaranteed 15% pay rise in return for getting a tattoo of the company logo. So far nearly 40 employees have taken up the offer with one even getting the logo inked behind her ear.

True, the stunt has earned the real estate company free advertising for a limited time. But the cost implications alone suggest that this is a flawed marketing strategy. Each tattoo costs $300 and there are 800 employees who might decide to take up the offer to achieve the 15% pay rise. Wouldn’t the money have been better spent on more orthodox advertising, like a billboard?

The company may also see better returns by investing in a comprehensive social media strategy rather than a tattoo scheme. By posting useful, relevant content and engaging with an audience, a brand can establish itself as a credible authority, entice prospects and build brand loyalty – not the results I would suggest 40 tattoos deliver. Other traditional marketing tactics, now sometimes overlooked in favour of online marketing, are also more likely to hit home with prospects than gimmicks. According to a 2012 survey by Fastmap, 80% of users will open direct mail, and they’re more likely to do so if it contains a coupon/voucher or has an intriguing shape (aka ‘lumpy mail’). Not quite as ‘fun’ as a tattoo, but arguably more likely to convert a lead.

In an information-soaked, recession-hit world, modern marketers face a dilemma; is it better to take risks, cut through the noise and hope to win big, or will slow and steady win the race? The answer lies with the skill of the savvy marketing director and their ability to analyse the market, calculate the extent of the risk and determine a winning strategy. Free falls from space or ironic videos will not always result in a marketing coup, but there is truth in the saying ‘he who dares, wins.’

Ben Padley  is a consultant with Brand Learning and the former head of digital marketing and CRM at Sony Ericsson.

  • Christina Sprock

    Interesting article. In our company they like to call this ‘out of the box’ thinking, although it is done with great reluctance and trepidation. Sometimes daring to step out of your comfort zone unleashes an immense amount of hidden or untapped creativity. It would be a great thing to experience the CFOs and Boards trust the creative brain more, because creativity is dynamic, and being in a box; that’s all it will ever be.