The Marketing Society has been celebrating brave brands for 60 years, crowning those that have found a brilliant creative solution to a particular problem or pushed the boundaries with their work.
Creativity is a hugely powerful tool for making a positive impact. But it’s important to take a wider perspective on what bravery means. There is a difference between an incredible creative campaign and real brand bravery.
Bravery isn’t recklessness. It isn’t fleeting or opportunistic. And it’s not the opposite of cowardice – it is the enemy of conformity.
Bravery is not a tactic or strategy. It’s a long-term, baked-in attitude that is revealed through habits and behaviours, and this is as true for brands as it is for people.
Embracing the risk
"Doing the right thing" should be table stakes for any brand. Brave brands go above and beyond this to understand how they exist in the lives of their customers. They push boundaries to satisfy these needs and differentiate themselves from the competition.
This naturally entails an element of risk – but there is no shame in trying and failing. It’s all about having a brave mindset that influences every decision you make and building on the learnings of the future, instead of retreating to what feels like a safe place.
This is reflected in some of the brands nominated this year, such as Channel 4. Its "Complaints welcome" ad was a brilliant piece of creative work – but it was effective because it is perfectly in line with the values of the brand.
From its advertising to the design of its digital services to the tone of voice of its shows, Channel 4’s consistent brand perspective empowers it to champion diversity, gender identity and disability. Bravery is only impactful if it is authentic. The risk for Channel 4 wasn’t creating this ad; it was building a brand with the values that allow it to make this ad.
The same can be said for Nike. The brand is able to successfully navigate a politically polarised landscape and create brilliant pieces of brand communication, such as "Dream crazy" and "Dream crazier", because it is more than opportunistic marketing. They reflect values that are culturally embedded in the brand. And they have been for decades.
Congratulations to Cancer Research UK, which was deservedly recognised as Brave Brand of the Year for taking a stand on the dangers of obesity – despite the connotations around fat-shaming. Cancer Research was willing to risk offence by pushing a meaningful agenda to help people live healthier lives. But beyond this strong piece of creative, Cancer Research is consistently brave in how it directly combats and calls out its "rivals", such as the fast-food, alcohol and tobacco industries (among others). This is not easy to do and requires real understanding of how these brands live in people’s lives as well as their own.
Scaling the heights
Our job is to help brands understand their own scale of bravery, because the real risk is inaction.
But responding to social issues isn’t necessarily brave. It shows an understanding of shifting values that, in turn, can demonstrate a brave change in direction. Removing plastic toys from children’s meals is a good initiative – but it alone doesn’t make the brand brave. This is a basic expectation for a modern brand. But that change marking the beginning of a greater cultural shift would be brave.
The most successful brands have bravery and disruptive thinking hardwired into their organisations – be they five years old or 50. This is what distinguishes a brand from its competitors and empowers its communication to resonate in the lives of audiences.
Bravery needs a rebrand. Your brand is how people experience it – bravery needs to resonate across the experience, not just in a campaign.
Dave Blendis is head of strategy at DixonBaxi