Gen Kobayashi
Oct 12, 2021

It's time adland ditched the 'B word'

Adland uses the word 'brave' with abandon. But given real life is full of instances of genuine bravery—especially in these strickened times—'brave' advertising is a misnomer that needs to be ditched.

It's time adland ditched the 'B word'

"Brave" – it's a big word.

The dictionary definition of brave is "ready to face or endure danger or pain". If anything, the global pandemic has shone a light on some of the bravest aspects of humanity. People like Leilani Medel, a 41-year-old mum who travelled to the UK from the Philippines to work as a nurse on the NHS frontline. Last year, Leilani died after contracting Covid-19 while working on a ward with infected patients. At the same time, Leilani's husband contracted Covid, too, and was being treated in intensive care. After Leilani had passed away and because Leilani had no close family in the UK, her daughter Carmina, was taken into local authority care until her father was well enough to look after her.

This desperately sad story is one among countless others that reflect the many personal sacrifices that have been made by key workers who have helped navigate this country through this deadly pandemic. If you want to see "bravery", have a read through this Nursing Standard article, remembering the UK's nurses who have lost their lives to Covid.

Which brings me on to adland's seeming infatuation with the word "brave". The other week I overheard someone in the office saying that the client wanted to see "brave work" from us. I get the ambition for the word "brave" in relation to creative work. But I wonder whether it's a word that is holding the industry back, instead of propelling it forward.

The problem with the word "brave" is that it inherently communicates "risk" and while we work in a creative industry, we remain employed by paying clients. We aren't artists, we're commercial artists and we have to recognise the fact that "risk" is not an attractive word when it comes to business.

When we talk about "brave work", I think we really mean creatively outstanding work. Work that makes everyone who works in this industry feel a pang of jealousy rip through their gut when they see it – "I wish I had made that". Work that makes your in-laws want to talk to you about your job. Work that your mates down the pub want to talk about. Work that has award juries foaming at their mouths.

None of this is "risky". We know that creatively awarded work remains more effective in driving profitable growth for clients than work that isn't. Yet, why do we insist on fetishising this work as some sort of risky decision for a business to make? The mountains of research that people sush as Les Binet and Peter Field have done in this field points to the very opposite of risk. In fact, it's the agencies and clients who insist on investing in average who are taking the risk.

Instead of "brave", I think we should change the narrative to "original". Original is far more of an accurate reflection of the work we all want to make and the work our clients deserve. Fresh, different, distinctive and memorable. There's nothing risky about this.

Building a hugely profitable price comparison website through the creation of a talking meerkat named Orlov is bonkers but it's not risky, it's original.

Or when my agency, Engine, brought an aspiring footballer back to life to be played in the Fifa video game series to raise awareness of knife crime among young boys, it was a leap in thinking, but it's not risky, it is original.

Even Balenciaga employing Homer and Marge Simpson to be models for this year's Paris Fashion Week show is one hell of a curveball, but it's not risky. It's original.

And it isn't just we advertising and media types who are looking for "original" creative work. The Journal of Advertising carried out a study to understand what consumers believed to be the signifier of "creativity" when it came to advertising and, guess what, 70% of consumers cite work that is seen as "original" as most creative. Beyond "relevance" and "execution". Shock horror. Real people care as much about work being original as much as our ECDs and CCOs.

So, I'd ask us all to make an effort to ditch the word "brave" when we talk about excellent creative work. It's not helping us as agencies, nor our clients in getting to the work we all want to create. Instead let's bang the drum for "original". Originality in thinking and ideas. And frankly if the last two years of the pandemic has taught us anything, let's reserve the "brave" accolade for those who are more deserving of it. After all – whisper it – it is only advertising.

Gen Kobayashi is chief strategy officer at Engine Creative

Campaign UK

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