How to Really Take Risks in Advertising

It's about the culture

If we want our people to jump off a plane, we need to be their parachute.

We constantly hear in our industry about the importance of taking risks. So much so that it's becoming just another advertising trope among so many others that we're all sick of hearing about, from online pundits to (many) ad event pulpits.

Every day I read somewhere about the importance of being brave and following our gut, and I am not here to deny that. I am a firm believer that when we take risks and follow our instincts, that's when we find real and unexpected connections with consumers that brands desperately seek.

But how come we keep telling our people (and clients) to take risks in environments that are so dominated by fear? 

The case I want to make here is a rational one. We have many theories around it, but I have yet to see any pragmatic approach to it.

I am fascinated by the concept of moral hazard. For those who don't know about it, here's an excerpt from Wikipedia: 

Moral hazard occurs when someone increases their exposure to risk when insured, especially when a person takes more risks because someone else bears the cost of those risks. 

Basically it's a phenomenon that happens in our psyche that makes us take more risks when we feel that we are safe. It's what makes a snowboarder be more daring when they have health insurance; a swimmer go farther in the sea if there's a lifeguard nearby; or a driver go faster if they're wearing a seatbelt.

The opposite is also true. When you're not wearing a helmet, you might be more cautious on a bike.

But what if we apply the same concept to our industry? If we really need people to take risks, it's imperative to foster a safe environment. But how? 

Unfortunately I don't have all the answers. It varies from place to place. But here are four things sacred at TBD:

Diversity

Needless to say, any environment where people from different backgrounds are respected and embraced is a thriving one.

Transparency

Good or bad, people need to know what's going on. A transparent environment is the best antidote to the toxic politics so common in our industry.

Empowerment

Nothing beats trust. The feeling of being empowered brings out the best in people. 

Culture

This one is pretty much the byproduct of all the above. Culture is everything. It's the intangible that makes or breaks agencies.

So, instead of just asking our people to take risks or be brave, let's start thinking about how we can provide an environment where they feel safe enough to jump off a plane knowing their parachute won't fail them. 

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Rafael Rizuto
Rafael Rizuto is founder and chief creative officer of TBD San Francisco.