The Risk of Not Taking Risks in Advertising

Cheryl Catts

June 5, 2012

Awkward Family Photos: Perms

The risk of not taking risks is that without it there’s no progress. Without risk, life might look like this..

I was a very risk-averse child. Let’s be honest, I’m a risk-averse adult. But really, as a kid I stayed in line – I did what my parents told me to, I was a good student, I only rode my bike up the driveways of the neighbors I knew; and the one time I stole a pack of gum as a 5-year-old, I nearly crumbled with guilt by the time I got to the car.

As I’ve gotten older I wouldn’t say I seek out risk (I can hardly imagine anything worse than skydiving), but I’ve figured out what I can handle, and how far I can push myself. And I do it – I take risks, because I know they’re good for me.

So it makes me wonder, why do we take risks? What is it about stretching ourselves to do things that are slightly uncomfortable that makes us better? The simplest answer I can come up with is that the best parts of my life have come as a result of taking risks.

In advertising we’re constantly being asked to take risks. Rarely are these the kinds of major risks where we have to rebrand, install flashing lights onto our building exteriors, or turn the company dress code into clown costumes. However, we’re asked to change – to do things that are unexpected, new or innovative.

This change can be uncomfortable. But there are far too many companies (I’m sure you can think of five on your block) which adhere to the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, with that mindset you get left behind or forgotten. Or, even worse, miss out on opportunities to better communicate with your target audiences.

It’s human to want to improve, and we expect the same thing in the brands and products we consume. The risk of not taking risks is that without it there’s no progress. Without risk, life might look like this:

– We’d all still be eating shredded wheat every morning for breakfast
– Everyone would have a perm
– Cars would top out at 55 mph
– McDonald’s would still be using the slogan “Nobody can do it like McDonald’s can”
– The world wouldn’t be blessed with snuggies, jeggings or lighted slippers

Ok, so not every risk is guaranteed to be a success. But without taking them we will never know. Whether it means starting a company blog, going through an honest evaluation of your logo design, or pulling out of the sports sponsorship (even though it gets you hooked up with really great tickets) because it’s not aligned with your target audience.

You don’t need to skydive to take risks, but just the right amount of discomfort means you’re probably doing something right.