If human innovation has taught us anything, it’s that taking risks will either be rewarded (see successful flight of the world’s first flying machine) or get you killed (see attempted flight of the world’s first flying machine).
In either case, risk-taking is often necessary for breaking boundaries, standing out from the crowd and ultimately making your mark in the world. When it comes to business, these are all essential components for success.
Sure, that’s easier said than done. But nobody ever said running a successful business was going to be easy. Neither are we here to tell you how to approach every strategic decision in your business. Hopefully, you’ve got that covered.
Instead, we wanted to highlight a few brands that made some seriously bold moves with their marketing and won. After all, marketing is always going to be a risk at some level — nailing your colours to a particular flag, flying it high and sticking to your guns. Depending on the degree of risk you take, you’re certainly going to get a reaction one way or the other.
Dove — Campaign for Real Beauty
While body positivity and celebrating a mix of all shapes and sizes seem commonplace today, the beauty arena was a very different space back in 2006. Dove sought to challenge the status quo, and instead of using flawless specimens in their marketing, they chose realistic models spanning all ages and body types.
This campaign for what Dove called ‘Real Beauty’ helped differentiate the skincare brand in an otherwise saturated market. More importantly, it put Dove at the forefront of a global movement to look beyond the superficial, sparking a conversation about what it means to ‘feel’ beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.
In terms of marketing risk, all this may seem like an obvious route to go down today, but it was uncharted territory in the mid-2000s. However, the gamble has clearly paid off, and Dove is now synonymous with current ideals surrounding compassionate personal care.
Aldi — Free Cuthbert
When a high-profile brand threatens legal action of any kind, poking fun at the situation (and at those threatening to sue you) probably isn’t a strategy you — or your lawyers — would choose. But that’s precisely what happened when M&S challenged Aldi earlier this year over claims the discount supermarket’s Cuthbert The Caterpillar cake was in infringement of Marks and Spencer’s own Colin The Caterpillar.
On balance, the difference between the two products is as different as night and… later that night (bonus point for getting the reference), but that was beside the point, and Aldi was asked to remove Cuthbert from store shelves everywhere.
— Aldi Stores UK (@AldiUK) May 7, 2021
Aldi, however, has never been one to shy away from making fun of their competitors and took the battle to social media, where it was left to the courts of popular opinion to pass judgement. This move evidently fell in their favour, with thousands of users jumping to Aldi’s defence, resulting in the hashtag ‘Free Cuthbert’ trending UK-wide. This only garnered further support when Aldi proposed a truce; suggesting that both supermarkets donate all sales proceeds of their respective cakes to charity.
Disney — Creating the world’s first animated feature film
Technically, there were pioneers in animation long before Disney, but it wasn’t until the release of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs in 1937 that the medium was widely embraced on the same level as film.
In fact, Walt Disney himself fought tooth and nail to get the feature made, facing concerns from the studio that audiences wouldn’t pay to watch a 90-minute cartoon without any actual real people in it.
The struggle didn’t end there. In order to achieve the level of animation to make the action believable, the drama real and give proper weight to the pathos, the studio brought in specialists to help with colour composition and develop entirely new ways of capturing life-like subjects.
The risk and investment eventually paid off and upon the film’s release, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs became one of the most commercially successful movies of all time. It also paved the way for other Disney successes, helping them become one of the most financially success companies in the world.
Perhaps the film’s most enduring legacy is the studio’s continued attitude towards risk — releasing Toy Story, the world’s first computer-animated feature film, which also broke ground creatively and commercially upon its release 60 years later.
Microsoft — Rebranding as a video games company
Long before Microsoft entered the video games arena, the market was dominated by heavy hitters Sony and Nintendo. But when Sony unveiled their newest console in 2001, touting it as a replacement for the home PC, it was essentially like waving a red flag at a bull.
Sony were convinced that the future of video gaming would take place in the living room, on a television, instead of a desktop machine elsewhere in the home. Our vantage point in history shows they were absolutely right, but for Microsoft, this was all new ground. Regardless, they recognised an opportunity took a huge risk — they were going to build and market their first machine dedicated to console gaming.
This wasn’t a desktop. This wasn’t a laptop. This wasn’t even some kind of watered-down mobile device. It was a fully-fledged system to compete with Sony and Nintendo, and the company poured (reportedly) $500 million into the marketing alone.
It seemed the biggest challenge Microsoft faced would be establishing themselves as a ‘video games’ company. They had already proven themselves with hardware and software, but now they needed to convince game developers, publishers and consumers worldwide that Microsoft’s Xbox was a formidable brand in the console space.
Twenty years later, and the Xbox brand is one of Microsoft’s biggest, most successful divisions. What’s more, the company has produced some of the most widely recognised IPs in video gaming history.
KFC — FCK
Call it fate, call it karma (another bonus point for getting that reference), call it a well-orchestrated publicity stunt that was planned out from the beginning… But whatever you call it, you can’t argue with the sheer genius of it all.
When KFC found themselves completely out of chicken, restaurants UK-wide turned customers away for days in February 2018. Not only did this have a severe impact on the company’s bottom line, but it was also a major PR embarrassment for a fast-food chain that, to be fair, really only serves one type of food.
However, KFC’s response to the issue was bang on the money, taking a risk by publicly taking the whole thing on the chin. Rearranging the brand name into a short-form cuss word and openly apologising in a self-deprecating way received a hugely popular response on social media, quickly restoring the brand’s reputation in the process.