Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2015

The fine art of risk taking

Taking risks is essential to real creativity – and for that we need guts, not gut feel.

Photo: Online.
Photo: Online.

Sadly for advertising, in Pakistan we tend to take the path most travelled. It is why we have jingle after jingle, again and again. In the 80s there were amazing jingle based ads for Naz Pan Masala (Meri mutthi mein band hai kiya?), State Life Insurance (Aye khudda meray abbu salamat rahein), Naurus (Bhool na jana phir papa). They are still etched in memories. Come 2015, we still see jingles selling everything from mobile connections to biscuits.

I remember the time our team was called in for a briefing by the client. We listened as their marketing team briefed us, ending with: “We want to do something completely brand new, something totally different. What can we do that’s different?”

There was a moment of silence as we thought about what was being asked of us. Our creative director, knowing the client all too well and having had countless groundbreaking creative concepts shot down in favour of jingles, sarcastically commented: “Why don’t we do a jingle?”

Our account team froze knowing that jokes did not go down well with the client.

“Brilliant! This is exactly what we need to do!” responded the client.

We thought they were joking. They weren’t. We headed back to the drawing board to develop yet another jingle for them.

How is it that three and a half decades later we are pretty much in the same place when it comes to advertising, while the rest of the world is pushing the boundaries of how they do their advertising every single day and innovating every step of the way?

I believe the problem is a cultural one; an aversion to risk has been hardwired into our brain throughout our upbringing. Recently there was an amazing viral video showing Jackson Goldstone aged 10 performing some unbelievable stunts on his mountain bike. I can’t help thinking about what would have happened if a Pakistani kid did something like that. His grandmother would have shrieked in shock while the parents would have gone into a frenzy to save their child from jumping off this two feet high ‘Grand Canyon’.

Comedians are probably the best people to pick up on human insights and none more so than ZaidAliT. In one of his videos he compares the reactions of a gora and a Pakistani parent when their child is injured. While the gora parent reacts by comforting the child, the Pakistani parent ends up beating the child for doing something that led to the injury.

Funny as the video is, it sheds light on a truth about us as people. We do not like challenging the status quo. We always take the safest way possible. Never rock the boat. Our measure of success is a good education and a stable job. And unfortunately, this risk-averse nature finds its way into the way we approach our work.

Doing something different would mean doing it for the first time and that would mean there is risk involved, as there is no example of it having been done before.

It is this risk-averse reasoning that makes marketers favour the tried and tested. It is safe. Although the ad will garner the same lukewarm response it usually does, it will be loved by their bosses and they will keep their jobs for another day as well as their pay cheque; the measure of success after all.

This is the reason our industry seems to believe in formulas for commercials rather than big ideas. For example, we have seen every brand of washing powder create a TVC with the exact same formula.

Celebrity or ‘expert’ announces a test between their brand of washing powder versus ‘aam’ powder.

People or children dirty their whites with all kinds of stains. Dirt, mud, oil, saalan. (The challenge about how to stain these whites is as far as the creativity goes.)

Two identical whites are washed in two separate washing machines, one with the brand’s powder, and the other with the ‘aam’ powder.

Lo and behold, the clothes washed with the brand’s powder are so white and glow with such brightness they could blind you. The clothes washed with ‘aam’ powder still have stains. Even after a second wash.

I like to ask people if they believe that any of these powders actually work as claimed and I am yet to meet a single person who believes so. Better yet, ask yourselves, can you remember the brand for each scenario I described above? For most of us, it is just a blur where all the brands claim exactly the same thing. There is no believability in the ads and hardly any recall. Of course, the product will sell – we have to choose something right? And so the brand managers believe the ad worked. It’s the same formula done over and over again. Why haven’t we tried something else?

Radiant, an Australian washing powder brand took the risk of breaking away from formulas. They made a series of webisodes, based on the theme of ‘Buy it, wear It, wash it, return it’. They started by going into a store to buy clothes, then they wore those clothes while doing a number of tasks (finger painting, garbage collecting, tackling practice) guaranteed to attract maximum amounts of dirt and mud. Then they washed those clothes with Radiant and returned them to the store (with the original tags back on). After careful inspection, the shop attendants accepted 13 out of the 14 returned clothes as being new. After which the team showed a video to the shop attendants of what they actually did while wearing those clothes.

You cannot forget advertising like this. The ad makes you believe that this product will work. Most importantly, you fall in love with the brand. It no longer remains just a product.

Can you imagine an agency in Pakistan presenting a concept like Cadbury’s Gorilla Drummer Drums to Phil Collins?

For those who haven't already seen the ad:

Here, we open on a close up shot of a gorilla, eyes closed, listening intently as Phil Collin’s ‘In the Air Tonight’ builds up. Fifty seconds into the commercial the focus is still on the gorilla. Then the camera slowly pulls back as the gorilla tilts his head backwards and a full set of drums is revealed. Now the gorilla lets rip as his moment on the drums finally comes. We cut to a shot of the product for five seconds, before fading.

“Are you mad?” would most likely be the first remark followed by “where is the consumption shot?” And in that moment, they would have lost out on one of the most successful and amazing ads to have been made.

We need to step out of the comfort zone of the tried and tested and make truly creative and hard hitting advertising that works. We have all heard the phrase about gut feel in meetings countless times. What we need are guts, not gut feel.

Grant Hunter, RCD, Asia at Iris Worldwide said risk generally scares people because it is perceived as the “possibility that something could go wrong.” But what if risk, was seen as the “possibility that something amazing could happen.”

Assam Khalid is Strategic Planning Director, BBDO Pakistan.