Risky Marketers

Lucy Handley is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.

Risky Marketers

Should marketers take more risks?

Over breakfast recently with Guy North, the new marketing communications director of Freeview, I asked him what was on his mind.

He talked about taking risks: he’d been chatting to recently hired agency Leo Burnett about the idea of marketers taking risks during a downturn and sticking their necks out with eye-catching creative.

North joined Freeview from Victim Support at the end of June, just as Leo Burnett took the reins from previous creative shop 18 Feet and Rising.

We agreed that it is difficult for marketers to take risks in this climate, but that in doing so, the rewards could be huge. Think about the now famous Compare the Market and More Than campaigns. Both feature wacky brand characters – a furry meerkat and a Thermos-holding man who sounds like Morgan Freeman – which provide cut-through in the potentially un-engaging financial sector. But they could annoy their audience, a risk that a marketer must decide to take.

North is currently working on a new campaign for Freeview that he says will push the brand and get people to be more emotionally involved with it. While he says he’s not pushing the agency for a risky campaign, he says he wants it to have impact.

He has a tricky task to a degree: the brand is big in that it is present in 10 million UK homes, but potentially difficult to love because people don’t necessarily know they are watching Freeview – which North says is backed up by its research.

The business is also run as a tight ship: currently there are 17 people working at its Chancery Lane headquarters. Expect the campaign to launch pre-Christmas and to be properly integrated across all media, he says.

While Freeview might have more license to be a bit ‘out there’ in terms of advertising creative, being in the sector it is, it must be strange for a marketer in a more controlled and traditional sector such as finance to come back to the office and present the board with the rough cut of an ad featuring something like puppets, which ING Direct’s campaign features this year.

As Richard Doe, the chief executive of ING Direct told me of his previous role as marketing director at the bank in July: “I do miss the creative side of marketing – it is very different to anything else that goes on within the bank.” Whether featuring characters in a campaign is risky for a creative execution or not is arguable, but you can imagine it is worlds away from the board in a corporate office overlooking a car park in Reading.

Even for a seasoned marketer like Doe, the release of a new campaign makes him nervous: “You don’t know exactly what is going to happen before it goes out there. Everyone gets nervous before you make a big change, everyone does what they can to make themselves feel comfortable that it is the right thing but until it is out there it is a bit nerve-wracking.”

Daryl Fielding, vice president marketing for Kraft Foods Europe, has described herself as brave and is open about when she felt campaigns have gone too far. In her previous role at Ogilvy, running the Unilever account, she told me that one of the Dove TV ads that showed women with flaws probably went too far when it came to showing scars. However she felt it was a journey she needed to go on.

“To an extent, if you are creating and curating a brand and you want to be new and exciting you almost need to go to the edge of it to know where the edge is, so I don’t think it was a bad thing to have done. The Dove journey was one where I was quite scared because it was so different. I’m often scared but I do it anyway. People have said I’m fearless, but I’m actually quite fearful, but go anyway.”

I say here’s to brands being more ballsy.



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Lucy Handley

Lucy Handley is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.


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