Bravery doesn't exist in advertising

Simon Labbett, the founder and creative director at Hometown London, questions whether bravery is ever an appropriate buzzword for the ad industry.

Simon Labbett: the founder and creative director at Hometown London
Simon Labbett: the founder and creative director at Hometown London

So what do you do?" That's a question I often get asked when catching up with old mates. "I work in advertising," I say. "Wow, that's brave."

Ever had a conversation like that? Nope, neither have I. Usually the reaction is a shrugging of the shoulders, followed by a facial acknowledgement that I must be doing well.

Advertising after all is full of bright young things that travel the world and hang out with celebrities, not green berets on a mission for Queen and country.

When you enter into this great industry you quickly realise how much talent occupies it. You also realise it can be very complacent and self obsessed. It's a fun industry for sure. It comes with a degree of stress, that's for sure. But does it come with any discernible risk that warrants a badge of bravery? Does it fuck.

Bravery takes many forms. It's the ability to do something you think is right, even when you’re scared shitless. It's also the ability to face down fear in times of anguish.

A few years ago my wife got terribly ill, it was a dark period for the whole family as she endured treatment I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. During that time I stared bravery in the face every time I looked at her. Just like I do when I see the emergency services mopping up the mess society leaves behind, the doctors who have to tell people things no one wants to hear, people battling addiction, or the soldiers for whom death is merely a consequence of the day job… you get my point.

Of course there are those who put themselves in the line of fire, the thrill seekers. The people who like to wrestle with fear and win. I put good creative people in this bracket, albeit at the safer end of the spectrum. In order raise eyebrows, stand out, and be remembered we have to put our heads above the parapet from time to time.

But is it bravery, or is it thrill seeking – in the safest sense? One thing is for sure, the fear of imminent death is never in the equation, and so I’d say the latter.

You could argue that a client carries more risk, and you'd be right. They, after all, are the ones who pay for said work and have their name plastered all over it.

But if you work as a marketing director then you're employed to make your brand noisier than your competitors, to inject it with excitement and plant it in the psyche of your customers. That's called being smart, being effective, not brave.

So can we please refrain from banding around bravery as an industry buzzword? We are many great things but brave isn't one of them. I believe we are doing a disservice to those who genuinely deserve the accolade.