Are Your Brands Daring Greatly?


Many of us grew up being told ‘failure is not an option’. But when you look around, while the rest of the world recoils at failure, technology’s dynamic innovators enshrine it as a rite of passage en route to success. It is probably Silicon Valley’s most striking mantra: “Fail fast, fail often”. It is recited at technology conferences, pinned to company walls, dropped in conversations. Failure is not only invoked but also celebrated in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs give speeches detailing their failures. Employees share their failed start-up stories in job interviews without hesitation. So when Cadillac launched its new ‘Dare Greatly’ campaign at the start of the year, that focused on daring to try and not be afraid to fail. It felt timely.

While the ‘Dare Greatly’ campaign clearly focuses on GM’s attempt to revitalize its luxury auto brand by redefining luxury and focusing on status, achievements and dreaming big, it embodies something bigger. It showcases that the American dream is being redefined in a contemporary manner. It’s okay to try something new or different and not succeed. Thus, failure is a badge of honor for failed attempts at trying to achieve the American dream.

As the thinking evolves, innovators are taking risks and challenging existing brands and categories by daring to ‘dream greatly’ and take risks, as in the case of Airbnb, Nest and Uber to name a few. Status quo is being challenged. Brands are being asked to rise to the occasion and cultivate a culture of risk taking. Contrary to the popular belief of ‘failure is not an option’, brands need to encourage risk taking. Brands need to feel comfortable failing early, failing often and ideally failing on the cheap, so that the learning can be applied early on and greater opportunities can be captured down the road.

Last year, Newcastle Ale veered off the traditional path and took a risk by creating an anti Super Bowl campaign and launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign knowing fully well that they could neither be on the Super Bowl, nor could they afford the $4M spot. The brand dared to ‘dream greatly’ and the campaign included banners, a website and a series of videos that made fun of everything related to Super Bowl: the advertising, the focus group research, the teaser/trailer/making of phenomenon, the would-be pitchmen Anna Kendrick and Keyshawn Johnson. Newcastle Ale showed the world the ad the brand would have made, if only they could have. An approach that was both risky and innovative.

The campaign received more than 10 million views and a major lift in sales. Leaving competitors wondering what their Super Bowl spot got them. This year, they kept up with the unconventional thinking by launching a commercial during the Super Bowl through crowdsourcing tactics – the ad featured Newcastle Ale, along with several other brands to pay for the expensive $4.5M commercial. Thus, a brand that could have easily gotten lost in the crowded beer aisle, found a way to stand out in a cost effective manner by applying unconventional thinking and risk taking.

Another example is Honey Maid the graham cracker brand sold by Mondelez. The brand took an unusual risk last year when it launched its new campaign theme ‘This is wholesome’. It risked showing nontraditional families that included two fathers and their child, a single father raising his son and a multiracial family. The campaign received all sorts of criticism – “horrible” and “disgusting” to name a few.

The brand stood by its stance despite the criticism and subsequently approved the production of a video clip in which artists fashioned printouts of the complaints, and the positive comments, into the word “Love”. While it’s unfortunate that brands taking a stance on the changing demographics of America in their advertising are perceived risky, brands that are embracing these risks are standing out both within the organization and with consumers.

While, the above two brands are examples of established brands in the marketplace, one finds the smaller, newer brands mostly willing to take the risks. Managers should not let budgets be an excuse for mediocrity. Given the digital arena brands – big and small now have opportunities to ‘dare greatly’. So how can you encourage your brands to take risks and try new approaches? Below are a few approaches:

Encourage Diversity:
Put together a team with different backgrounds, passions, and capabilities. Having a group with a diverse set of ideas and problem-solving approaches helps push your brand forward.  Celebrate your team members’ individuality — out of the box ideas and problem-solving approaches.

Past Is Not The Predictor Of Future:
Brands need to shake-up the status quo and step out of the comfort zone. Successful brands are constantly evolving, innovating and trying new ways to connect with customers.  Although historical data is no longer a predictor of future outcomes, is it valuable to look back on past failures to see what didn’t work and why.

Rethink Reward Metrics:
Brands and agencies are afraid to take risks, as it’s safer to be in the middle. Ask how is your team currently getting rewarded? Are you awarding bonuses to teams that are not making mistakes or rewarding teams that tried something different, even if it failed?

Capture Learnings:
Are you documenting failures? Brands love to show case studies of success stories, but it’s equally important to document and create case studies of things that didn’t work. It’s a fertile ground for lessons to be learned.

In the end, taking risks is always scary. But risks offer the only real opportunity for brands to stand out in a crowded market place. A recent Silicon Valley success story drives the point home. In an HBR interview with former president of Yahoo, Sue Decker shared that the windfall Yahoo received from Alibaba going public, only came after years of failed attempts by Yahoo to enter the Chinese market. She said, the success was built on what we learned from our prior efforts, as well as a resolve to take new risks to do what was necessary to succeed. Thus, it all starts from ‘daring greatly’, taking risks, trying something new and learning along the way.

So don’t stop ‘daring greatly.’