Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The end of compromise?

We recently pitched for a FTSE 100 retailer’s writing account and proposed a bold new tone of voice. We’re talking lots of character, lashings of wit and plenty of quirk. It was a risky pitch strategy. Yet we won.

Around the same time, a long-standing client asked us to crank up their tone of voice on an important new product brochure. So, do we have a trend here? Are clients finally embracing risk-taking?

Unique – but not too unique
What's life without a little risk?
The unusual can be unnerving. So it’s not uncommon to answer a brief to ‘push the boundaries a bit’ so well that it makes a client pause. After all, not many of us enjoy that feeling of being stared at for being different.

So the temptation is always there to do the opposite of what branding is meant to do: make something distinctive and maximise its appeal. And that’s the big paradox. Everyone wants their brand to stand out. But, intuitively, most people (and brand marketers are people too), don’t want to stand out too much. At some level, we’re all afraid of doing something outstanding.

Perhaps it’s this conflict that explains the oft-heard feedback, ‘I like it, but I’m not sure it feels right.’ We’ve all had that one slide into the inbox. And the result? Well, more often than not, we dutifully retreat to a safer option. One that’s recognisable and proven. The opportunity to compromise is always there. And good ideas become average through even the smallest of compromises.

It’s your favourite flavour: vanilla
If we’re not careful, creatives end up doing the editing/compromising themselves and clients don’t even get to see the left-field, wacky stuff that could transform the brand’s fortunes.

The late, great creative director, Paul Arden, had a way around this. He suggested you offer the paymasters two routes: “Do it his way. Then do it your way.” First you show the client what they want so you don’t put them in a corner. Once they have their safety net, they’re more likely to consider your radical alternative.

Of course, this presupposes that all clients are conservative and, as the last couple of months in our office have shown, many of them aren’t. There are now more brands than ever pushing for a tone of voice that is different and distinctive. How marvelous is that?
Everyone's a daredevil these days.

Monet painted for profit too
It’s great. But don’t think the suits have simply tapped into their inner artist. It makes business sense too. The end of compromise is a rational response to increasing homogenisation between products. In our never-offline, too-much-choice world, brands simply have to be bold. This is illustrated by almost overpoweringly ‘matey’ banks, cheeky supermarkets and sexually suggestive purveyors of mobile phones.

So yes, brands are finally embracing risk taking. They’re shaking off the verbal shackles. And, as copywriters, we’re loving it.

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