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  • Writer's pictureDeJuan Wright

Why Always Playing it Safe With Your Marketing is Actually Dangerous

Updated: Feb 7



It’s a tale as old as business itself, brands playing it too safe with their approach towards marketing. Seriously, even the early cavemen who bartered their goods or services probably struggled with finding the fine line between marketing deemed too over-the-top, and marketing that would be considered too safe to maximize desired results.


Recently, Vaseline, a brand that has—for the most part, always taken a relatively moderate approach with their marketing, came under fire when one of their Twitter posts went viral for what some would call… NSFW reasons (I’ll let you determine for yourself if it was or wasn’t by reading about it here).


Although many Twitter users claimed they were appalled and outraged by the post, Vaseline’s social media marketing team not only refused to apologize or delete the tweet, they even had fun with the negative comments they received for it by responding with a flushed face emoji in a tweet joking, “Y'all, we were talking about skincare. Thanks for making this weird.”


Not only was Vaseline’s tweet, and response to the criticism they received for it a risky move, it was also a brilliant one; as it served its purpose because in shocking people just enough to make them pay attention to the brand.


The dangers of playing it safe


When you really stop and think about it, playing it safe is the total opposite of the very essence of entrepreneurship. Without question, entrepreneurship is quite the risky endeavor. If it wasn’t, many more people would attempt entrepreneurship.


Yet, every day, countless startup founders who by nature are risk takers, continue to take what they believe is the safest route when it comes to their brand’s marketing. Which entails avoiding making any waves. A very costly mistake when it comes to marketing.


As author, entrepreneur, and marketing icon, Seth Godin says, “The safest thing that you can do is take a risk or what feels like a risk.”


Marketing with the intent to always play it safe is dangerous to your brand’s growth because it prevents those who work for and with your brand from ever taking the often necessary creative risks that could help build your brand and make it stand out to its target audience.


Why brands choose to play it safe


I’m sure you’re probably wondering, “If playing it too safe when marketing is so dangerous, why do so many brands continue doing it?” Well, the reason for that is simple. Most brands aim to appeal to everyone. And in doing so, they are afraid to appall anyone.


As a result, their marketing campaigns often come off as extremely vanilla and therefore, their brands come off as vanilla as well. A word that you certainly do not want being associated with your brand.


Instead of aiming to please everyone, only aim to please the people that matter most to your brand, its target audience.


The rewards of taking risks with your marketing


Ultimately, the key to building a great brand all comes down to your brand establishing an impregnable relationship with its target audience. And what does every great relationship have? Why, expectations, of course! Your brand’s audience wants to know what benefits they could count on your brand to deliver every time they come across it.


That means they want to know what to expect from your brand’s products, services, and yes, even its marketing. So, instead of thinking cautiously with your marketing, think boldly.


For example, back in 2005, a commercial hit the airwaves that sent millions of people (especially soccer moms) into a frenzy. That was the year when fast food restaurant chain Carl’s Jr., released a commercial for their Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger which featured a seductive, soapy, and scantily clad Paris Hilton washing a Bentley while eating a Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger.


Prior to the airing of the commercial, Carl’s Jr. was considered by most consumers, somewhat of a bland burger brand. But all of that changed after Paris Hilton brought her “Hotness” to the brand. After the partnership with Hilton, Carl’s Jr. established an identity with its audience that unlike other burger chains at the time, Carl’s Jr. was willing to be risqué in order to separate itself from the rest of the pack. And it worked!


“We wanted the ad to boost sales, which we think it did, but we also wanted it to help with our brand-building.” Said former CKE Restaurants Inc. (the parent company of Carl’s Jr.) CEO, Andrew Puzder to ABC News. “For long-term, brand-building purposes it was phenomenal. It got our name all over the country -- even places where we don't have restaurants.”


Today, Carl’s Jr.’s target audience (which the brand calls "Young and hungry guys" that are men between the ages of 18-to-34 years old) expects the brand to be bold with its advertising campaigns. And while some of their ads may displease some viewers from time to time, their target audience applauds them for it.


Had Carl’s Jr. continued to play it safe and decided to avoid the risk of being ridiculed by the masses and not featured Hilton in their ads the way they did, Carl’s Jr. would still be a safe, yet indistinguishable brand. Which is an extremely dangerous and vulnerable position for any brand to be in and one that your startup should do its best to avoid.


As a brand, Carl's Jr. was rewarded handsomely for their marketing risk taking. And your brand could be as well, but that's only if you're willing to take the risks that are required to do so.


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