Bold. Brave. Unapologetic. Nike continues to Dream Crazy.

Redefining Courage: Out of Home’s Bold Evolution

Talon’s Shabnam Irilian looks at opportunities for more bravery in advertising and the Out of Home space.

Bold. Brave. Unapologetic. These are words we use when we see amazing ad campaigns come to life in the world around us. These campaigns are the dream. They are the ones you spend the early years of your career aspiring to work on. They are the ones that challenge you as you hit your prime. They are the ones you look back on in your career with pride, to have been a part of something, for the incredible amount of work it took to support a brand doing things differently.

But over the last decade and a half, give or take, I’ve seen something happen. Where this bold unapologetic bravery was once the holy grail, somehow Fear has come to the forefront. Fear of taking a stand. Fear of backlash and retaliation. Fear of being disliked. To be Brave is to stand firmly in front of Fear and say, “Yes, this is daunting, but this is what is right.”

Nike’s latest iteration of their Just Do It campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick showcases exactly this bravery. As an ad, this creative is direct, poignant and brilliant. Perhaps not the popular choice with everyone, but the brave choice. A choice that understands the value that Kaepernick brings as the lead in this campaign, as a voice for all of the incredible athletes like those Nike has featured.

Brands do not come to agencies for us to help them speak to each other. Brands speak to people, and one of the best channels allowing this one-to-many communication will always be the Out of Home space. Take a walk through the streets of cities like New York and London, if you keep your eyes up what you will inevitably see is faded evidence of our origins in old hand-painted walls. Larger than life icons promoting businesses and products decades ago. Reminding us that once upon a time the only way to advertise in our industry at scale was to pay an artist to hang off the side of a wall and perfectly paint your ad.

Out of Home is in the midst of a transformation on both a local and global level. Not only are we seeing the massive conversion of signage to digital formats, but how we use data to inform planning and ensuring the most contextually relevant message is at the forefront of what we do. Where once a brand’s ads lived in completely different houses to make it onto a poster, on TV or online, now we have evidence that Out of Home works smarter and harder for brands alongside television and online/mobile strategies, giving brands the ability to seamlessly weave into the consumer experience.

The Nike/Kaepernick campaign among other things highlights the strength of our industry, and how Out of Home as a medium can help to drive social discourse and positive change. The context of Kaepernick’s journey over the last two years brings forward an added element of social responsibility. Quite often the campaigns that drive this discourse, change and responsibility are also the campaigns that can come with challenges to make them happen. There will be doubters and naysayers. There will be judgements passed and in some cases people may even try to have these ads taken down. Pressure will be placed on media partners to consider turning away business trying to stop something from running. And people may even boycott the product. But the best work makes us think, makes us talk, makes us take action.

If we look inward within our businesses and respective roles in the chain, we should ask, are we genuinely doing everything in our power to turn out the best possible work? Are we challenging our clients and ourselves to go beyond the status quo? Rather than fight the good work, we should be fighting for more good work. As partners in this industry, we all have to answer to this.

Too often we see ads that make us wonder, “what were they thinking?”, and in these cases it is clear that no one put their hand up to say, “this won’t get the job done.” We cannot be afraid to tell our clients that there is too much on the page, that print ads are not out-of-home ads, that deadlines are real.

Working in the advertising industry is all-consuming. Every part of the chain is critical to the piece before it and directly impacting the one after it. We cannot be afraid of holding each link in the chain accountable.  The best work comes from challenging norms, disrupting the usual models and being willing to think differently. May we all be lucky enough to look back on our careers and lives and say we were a part of something different, something smarter. That we were Bold, we were Brave, we were Unapologetic.