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Playing it Safe is a Dangerous Game

If you look hard enough, you can see brands wasting insane amounts of their marketing budgets on a daily basis.

The last statistics I read claimed that we are each exposed to over a thousand advertising messages every day.

Every single day.

Luckily our brains filter out the majority of information that is irrelevant to us.

If it didn’t then simply going about our daily lives would be near-impossible: imagine being constantly distracted by the latest offer from Amazon; or what’s just become available on Netflix; or a new flavour of Walkers crisps. Your life would become an intolerable bouncing of attention from one thing to the next (and you would eat an incredible amount of junk food).

So we are trained to ignore everything that isn’t important.

As Richard Shotton writes his brilliant book, The Choice Factory:

You’re hard-wired to notice what’s distinctive.

He elaborates in this story about attending a football match:

You slowly shuffle towards the station ticket gate, a part of the throng of passengers dressed in greys, blues and blacks. As you finally reach the turnstile your eyes are drawn towards one of the staff on duty. The man, probably in his 50s, looks like an old punk: head shaved to the scalp apart from a two-foot-tall bright blue Mohican. You wonder idly what would happen if you turned up to work with a Mohican? Of course, you noticed the Mohican, rather than one of the hundreds of short back and sides.

So of the thousand advertising messages that we are exposed to each day, which do we notice?

The corporate blue ones which blend into a sea of corporate blue?


The adverts using the same repetitive stock image choices?


The messages telling us the same thing as all their competitors?


We notice the bright pink in a sea of blue; the image of a man with a horses’ head surrounded by safe stock images; the funny headline rather than the tired old cliche.

Bill Bernbach said,

If no-one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.

Being safe is the most dangerous thing you can do for your brand.

To put it another way: being bold, different and interesting is the safest thing you can do for your brand.

So if you don’t want to be noticed, play it safe.

If you don’t want to be remembered, play it safe.

If you don’t want a return on your marketing spend, play it safe.

But if you want your brand to grow, then you better stand out.

Want to find out more? Read The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton.

Author Al Mitchell