Risky Marketing is Serious Business – and it often pays the price.

It’s official; the markets are well and truly crowded, and we’re not talking about Camden. We mean the one you’re currently squeezing yourself through right this second; the internet.

The online world was supposed to make things easier, breaking down barriers and connecting people globally. For better or worse, it happened. Now, the digital economy and interconnectedness are a part of our daily lives, bringing both major opportunities and threats that can go unnoticed for years.

For brands and advertisers, this reality is a double-edged sword. Companies can reach larger audiences more efficiently and get precise feedback, but so can the competition. It’s a jungle out there, and the only way to grab a hold of people’s attention is to be a lion: quick-thinking, risk-taking and, most importantly, courageous.

People have seen and heard it all before.

Getting and keeping someone’s attention is tough. Brands need to be bold, making creative choices just a bit outside their comfort zone.

They have to be quick to come up with new ideas, take more chances, learn from successes and failures, and focus on strategies that make them stand out to their target customers. This is crucial for building strong and lasting brand loyalty.

The other option isn’t really an option. It’s like standing still and eventually disappearing. Brands that play it safe, stick to what they know, and avoid making waves miss chances to grow. They also miss the opportunity to adapt when the market changes.

As Atilla Cansun, former CMO of Merck, said,

“…brands should take more risks and keep things interesting.”

He explained that if you don’t, you could quickly fall behind.

Jorn Socquet, marketing head at AB InBev, was even more direct. He said:

“As CMOs, we don’t take risks. I think we’re a very lazy bunch who want to protect our jobs. We don’t want to have tough conversations with our bosses.”

Maybe there was a time when avoiding risks in marketing made sense, but that time has passed. Giving up long-term opportunities for short-term safety isn’t a plan; it’s admitting defeat.

While the notion of venturing into uncharted territory might seem daunting, it is precisely this bold approach that propels companies to new heights. Here are six practical points of advice that will help you know what risks to take, and how to execute them.

Idea 1 – Embracing Creativity:

Taking risks in marketing is synonymous with embracing creativity. In a market saturated with similar products and services, it is the daring and imaginative campaigns that capture attention. Companies should encourage their marketing teams to think outside the box, explore unconventional ideas, and bring forth campaigns that resonate with the target audience on a deeper level.

What does this look like? We’re glad you asked. Here’s a list of exercises that will certainly get your team thinking differently:

  1. Reverse Brainstorming:
    • Challenge the team to think of ways to make the product or campaign fail. Once these “negative” ideas are generated, flip them around to find positive and innovative solutions.
  2. Random Word Association:
    • Select a random word unrelated to the project, and encourage the team to associate it with the current marketing challenge. This can spark unconventional ideas and new perspectives.
  3. Role Reversal:
    • Have team members switch roles temporarily. This could mean a designer thinking like a customer service representative or a copywriter stepping into the shoes of a product developer. The fresh perspective can lead to innovative insights.
  4. The 5 Whys:
    • Encourage team members to repeatedly ask “Why?” to delve deeper into the core issue. This technique helps uncover hidden aspects and can lead to unique solutions.
  5. Mind Mapping:
    • Create a visual representation of ideas and connections related to the marketing challenge. This non-linear approach can reveal unexpected relationships and inspire creative thinking.
  6. Stimulate the Senses:
    • Change the physical environment or introduce unconventional stimuli. This could involve playing specific music, using scents, or incorporating tactile elements. Different sensory inputs can trigger creative thinking.
  7. Customer Empathy Exercise:
    • Have team members immerse themselves in the customer’s experience by using the product or service. This hands-on approach can lead to valuable insights and innovative ideas for improvement.
  8. 60-Second Pitches:
    • Challenge team members to quickly pitch their ideas in 60 seconds or less. This time constraint forces concise and focused thinking, pushing the team to distil their ideas to the core.
  9. Storyboarding:
    • Ask team members to create a visual story or comic strip representing the customer journey or the marketing campaign. This visual approach often helps break down complex problems and find creative solutions.
  10. Silent Meetings:
    • Conduct a meeting without spoken words. Encourage the team to communicate through visuals, writing, or other non-verbal means. This restriction can prompt alternative methods of expression and idea generation.

Idea 2 – Engaging with Emerging Platforms:

The digital era has ushered in a multitude of platforms and channels, providing companies with unprecedented opportunities to reach their audience. By taking risks and venturing into emerging platforms, businesses can stay ahead of the curve. Whether it’s through interactive content, viral campaigns, or leveraging new social media trends, embracing the unknown can lead to increased visibility and audience engagement.

Idea 3 – Personalisation and Authenticity:

Modern consumers crave authenticity. Taking risks in marketing involves moving away from generic messaging and embracing personalisation. Companies should be willing to tailor their campaigns to individual preferences, even if it means taking a stance on controversial topics. Authenticity resonates with consumers and can foster a stronger connection between the brand and its audience.

Idea 4 – Rapid Adaptation to Trends:

Right now, trends come and go with remarkable speed. Companies that are willing to take risks and adapt swiftly to emerging trends position themselves as industry leaders. This flexibility allows for the incorporation of the latest technologies, cultural shifts, and consumer preferences into marketing strategies, ensuring relevance and resonance. How do you stay on track with trends?

  1. Do regular market research
  2. Attend industry conferences and events
  3. Follow industry influencers
  4. Regularly analyse competitors 
  5. Listen to customer feedback
  6. Invest in strategic partnerships:

Idea 5 – Storytelling with Impact:

Storytelling has emerged as a powerful tool in marketing, but it requires an element of risk to stand out. No two novels on an annual bestseller list are identical. Companies should be willing to tell stories that challenge norms, evoke emotions, and leave a lasting impact on their audience. Narratives that push boundaries and make a meaningful connection can differentiate a brand in the competitive marketplace.

Final Reminder – Remember Collaborative Innovation:

Taking risks need not be a solitary endeavour. Companies can foster a culture of collaborative innovation, encouraging employees at all levels to contribute ideas and perspectives. By creating a safe space for experimentation and learning from failures, companies can tap into the collective creativity of their teams.


The pace of change is swift and continually accelerating. Overlooking the significance of these dynamics or failing to address them urgently poses a significant threat to brand growth, and for any brand, stagnation is synonymous with decline.

However, amidst this push for innovation and growth, there is a rising apprehension about potentially offending audiences. Concerns about facing public backlash, being targeted by social media criticism, causing harm to vulnerable communities, or tarnishing the brand’s image are causing brand managers to hesitate in venturing boldly into unexplored territories.

The only established route forward is to embrace change and muster the courage to confront the outcomes of undertaking significant and daring brand experiments.

The crux of expanding creative boundaries lies in staying faithful to your brand’s mission and voice while maintaining a robust connection with the culture and community that supports you. By actively engaging with your audience and upholding these principles, you will discover distinctive opportunities to diverge from the norm and execute unexpected campaigns that not only capture attention but also foster loyalty and propel growth.