Ellen Hammett: Brands that describe themselves as ‘brave’ should be consigned to Room 101

There’s a new buzzword in the marketing industry and it’s getting out of hand. It’s time to gain some perspective.

A sofa being brave

Harveys is gearing up to launch its latest furniture collection, which it says will not only be vibrant and chic, but also brave. Like most people, I often look for bravery in a sofa – which got me thinking about all the other ‘brave’ brands that have heroically landed in my inbox over the past few months.

Diesel – for clothing and accessories that are “ironic, bold and brave at the same time”.

Beauty Bay – an online beauty brand that “threw out the cosmetic marketing rulebook to develop a creative attitude that matches its brave challenger brand position”.

Starling Bank – with its “brave approach” in a campaign which featured nude models with their spending habits displayed on their skin.

Asos – with its customers that “live and breathe [its] values of authenticity, creativity and bravery in everything they do”.

And of course not forgetting KFC, perhaps the bravest of them all, which took out full-page ads in the Sun and the Metro to apologise for running out of chicken. So brave, that it will join the likes of Burger King, Mars and Nike as an ‘honoree’ of the Advertising Club of New York’s 2018 Brave Brands programme.

Bravery. It’s a word now used with such liberal abandon by the ad industry that I’m left unsure what it really means.

The Oxford Dictionary describes bravery as “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage”. So by that definition, the chickens in KFC’s slaughterhouse are brave. A child having chemotherapy is brave. Firefighters that enter burning buildings and save lives are brave. Someone leaving an abusive relationship is brave.

Furniture, clothes and buckets with ‘FCK’ written on them are not brave.

KFC FCK ad

What marketing, advertising and product design can be is innovative, exciting and thought-provoking; it can shock and inspire; it can push boundaries and tackle taboo subjects; it can test out new ways of doing things, some of which might fail.

But marketing is not brave. And by throwing the b word around so much, to the point where it is starting to lose meaning, all brands are doing is making people roll their eyes. (I did some qualitative research down the pub with friends who have no connection to the marketing industry and they all rolled their eyes, so it’s obviously objectively true.)

It is possible to take risks and do great advertising without labelling it as ‘brave’. Channel 4’s annual Diversity Award, for example, is a good step to getting brands to challenge stereotypes and think about more diverse approaches to advertising.

And it is absolutely essential that they continue to think outside of the box and innovate – because while advertising has upped its diversity game in recent years, there is still a long way to go.

In the meantime, a little perspective is needed. And I’m officially dumping ‘bravery’ into the depths of Room 101 where it can dwell for all eternity with ‘purpose’, ‘authenticity’ and LinkedIn ‘biz-spiration’ posts.

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