Taking risks: Paddy Power's recent deforestation stunt
Taking risks: Paddy Power's recent deforestation stunt
A view from Leo Rayman

Rainforests, sex toys and how to take risks

The World Cup kicks off today and it is the brands who take the biggest risks who will reap the rewards, writes Leo Rayman, head of planning at Grey London.

The World Cup is almost here and with it comes the inevitable debate of who will emerge victorious. Not which nation will find glory on the pitch but which advertiser will capture the cultural zeitgeist. The battle lines are drawn and it is squarely between the sponsors and the non-sponsors.

Working harder?

There seems to be something about the adversity of being a non-World Cup sponsor that drives better work. To make up for what they lack in official exposure.  Few play this game better than Nike.

Their World Cup film is an ode to risk taking. While it pays lip service to the brilliance of professional footballers like adidas' largely forgettable work, it does so in a way that is thoroughly unexpected and with a charm that elevates it well beyond its category.

Is it as bold as their previous "Write the Future" work, which directly dismantled the cult of personality around footballers? I wouldn't like to say, but in playing with risk, it stands out.

The fine line

Agencies talk a lot about taking risks. Whether it's #failhard, or "the most dangerous thing is playing it safe", some of our industry's biggest clichés toy with risk.

We like to think of ourselves as brave and there is something about risk taking that feels fundamental to creativity. But how well do we understand risk? More importantly, how well do we know how to take risks? And when does being risky become reckless?

As part of our series of Grey Matter events, Grey London recently invited three very different people with firsthand experience of risk to lift the lid on this much romanticized but poorly understood subject.From their combined experience, we have identified some clear learnings for how all brands can play profitably with risk.

Brazillians and sex toys

Like Paddy Power's recent Brazilian deforestation stunt, moves which appear brave or risky are often meticulously planned and entirely sensible.

"The riskiest decision we took was the day we said, 'Let's do sex toys", said Jo Hudson, entrepreneur and founder of erotic boutique playkinky.com.  From that point on, it was all about turning a seemingly insane choice into a savvy commercial one.

While the business comes with some dangers (it's hard to get a bank loan and product safety regulations leave much to be desired), the market is growing and it is possible to create a brand experience that not only reassures customers, but let's you charge a premium.

By taking the expensive short term steps of self-regulating, adopting high design values and investing in quality content, they mitigated the risks they faced and built a brand that is paying back in the long term.

Belief vs. smart thinking

Risk has a cultural dimension too. It requires more than just smart thinking but the far less tangible qualities of belief and partnership.

For all we hear about creative risks, all risks are ultimately personal and must have purpose.

"The biggest risk takers are clients. You need balls of steel and a heart of gold to get it right." said Chris Bovill, one half of the team that heads up 4Creative.

Support your risk-takers

Whatever side of the client-agency divide you stand on, risk takers need people to believe in them.

Further, agencies need to regard clients as more than obstacles to be sold to on the path to greatness but as people who need to be supported internally.

This support can simply be about sympathetic communication.

David Spiegelhalter, Cambridge Professor for The Public Understanding of Risk explained: "Numbers don't speak for themselves; it's how you frame them that matters."

This applies to numbers in creative but also to how we speak to each other. How often do we consider the way we present a strategy or budget plan will affect its interpretation? Probably not nearly enough and yet it's critical.