How to Break Out of Creative Hibernation & Take More Risks

According to Jeff Charney, CMO of American insurance giant Progressive, the entire marketing industry is in a state of “creative hibernation”. What are we all so afraid of?

Are you stuck in a marketing rut? Are you afraid to take risks so you stick to the same old, tried and trusted formula?

According to Jeff Charney, CMO of American insurance giant Progressive, the entire marketing industry is in a state of “creative hibernation”.

Charney told Adweek that fear is the driving motivator behind the lack of risk taking. And it seems to have worsened in recent years. So what are we all so afraid of?

Fear of failure

If you get it wrong when it comes to marketing initiatives, the backlash can be nasty. Look at the results of Mastercard’s Goals that Change Lives campaign launched last year. The company no doubt thought it was doing good by partnering with the U.N. World Food Programme to give away 10,000 meals for every goal scored by its brand ambassadors, Lionel Messi and Neymar. But social media users thought it was a tasteless gimmick to rest the fate of starving children on the performance of multi-millionaire footballers. Mastercard ended up pulling the campaign.

“When the social media engine is moving, no one has the patience to really understand the whole story—they just look at the headline and start freaking out,” Mastercard’s CMO Raja Rajamannar told Campaign.

Another recent example of a brand taking a bold stance and regretting it is Lush’s Spycops campaign. The cosmetics retailer came under heavy criticism from the Police and consumers for the stunt, which promoted the hashtag #spycops and saw shops decorated with fake police tape emblazoned with the slogan: “Police have crossed the line.”

The campaign referenced the scandal of undercover officers entering into relationships with women in order to spy on them. Lush said it was trying to, “highlight the abuse that people face when their lives have been infiltrated by undercover police.” However, it led to social media users launching their own hashtag #FlushLush, calling for a boycott of the company.

The risk of ad fatigue

No brand wants this type of negative attention, so surely it’s best to play it safe? Wrong. According to The Drum, “ad fatigue” is as much a risk to your brand as unsuccessful campaigns. Ad fatigue arises when consumers have grown tired of viewing the same ads.

Research has shown that when consumers feel they have seen an ad too many times it can lead to negative sentiments toward a particular brand. In turn, ad fatigue negatively affects ad performance and ultimately the campaign’s ROI.

But how can you prevent your marketing from becoming stale while at the same time minimising creative risk? There is an answer, and that’s research.

Insight-based creativity

Brands are scared to be brave, but only because they’re going in blind, according to Progressive’s Charney. “You’ve got to understand the marketplace and most importantly, do creative that’s insight-based,” he said. “If you do it insight-based, it’ll always work.”

What he means, is that you can be brave without being reckless – carrying out research to first inspire and then validate your creative can give you the confidence needed to push it forwards. Even if the idea is a radical one.

A great example of this is the dating app Hinge, which re-launched with a hard-hitting animation after its research found that, “81% of Hinge users have never found a long-term relationship on any swiping app.”  

With the insight that many users view dating apps as no more than a game, Hinge created a dystopian fairground. Rides included the Cycle of Loneliness ferris wheel, One Night Ride rollercoaster, a Catch a Catfish game and a photobooth that takes its theme from the nearclassicexplicit photos many women receive through dating apps (Hinge’s research found that 70% of women who use dating apps have received sexually explicit messages).

The campaign accompanied Hinge’s transition from a swiping app to ‘relationship app’ and the introduction of a monthly subscription charge. According to Hinge, its app saw 400% growth in its user base after these changes. Such was its success, that in June last year Match Group acquired a 51% stake in the company.

Another example of a brand demonstrating real understanding for its customers is Always and its award-winning #LikeAGirl campaign, first launched in 2014. Always has built on the success of this campaign with continued customer insight. In 2017, The feminine hygiene brand carried out a study among 1,000 UK women aged 16-24 years. It found at puberty, nearly half of girls (49%) feel paralysed by the fear of failure. This finding inspired Always to launch a mission to encourage girls to embrace failure as fuel to build confidence and “Keep Going #LikeAGirl”.

The #LikeAGirl campaign achieved more than 85m global views on YouTube and won a host of awards. But more than that, it actually succeeded in changing perceptions of the phrase ‘like a girl’, with 76% of 16-24s stating they no longer saw the phrase negatively after watching. Furthermore, Always’ brand equity saw double digit percentage growth as a result of the campaign.

Managing risk with data

According to The Drum, having the right data will become increasingly vital to the ‘marketer of the future’. The most successful brands will be those that balance data and creative to act both strategically and with agility.

“Creative bravery is more important than ever and marketers can buy the ticket to creative bravery through data,” said Greg Johnson, Chief Innovation Officer at Mcgarrybowen. “When you understand your audience you can say: ‘We stand for something and we’re not afraid to risk a few people being upset.’ Data helps manage the risk.”

Ultimately, customer research acts like an insurance policy – you can push creative boundaries without fear that it might go wrong and negatively impact your brand. Thanks to pre-validation, you no longer have to put your neck (or your team’s) on the line.   

Basing your creative on solid research also makes it much easier to achieve buy-in at the outset. If you receive pushback from stakeholders, you can always justify your position. By making your marketing a mouthpiece for your customers, you can stand by what you say (and how you say it).

But not only does it protect you from risk, customer insight can be a massive source of inspiration. If your creativity has been slumbering, dormant inside of you, enter into a dialogue with consumers to put some bite back into your marketing!  

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Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 125 million global consumers. She also likes cake.

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