Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, 2017 will be remembered as a year of constant change. From brazen cyber attacks to the #MeToo movement, it's been an easy year to become distracted. With so many eye-catching headlines, marketers have been challenged to find ways to creatively break through the noise. As year-end approaches, it's worth reflecting on the Marketing campaigns that embraced positive risks to successfully grab our attention and spark conversations. 

What makes a marketing campaign courageous?

Courage in marketing can be challenging to define, but Courageous Marketing Campaigns typically have a few common characteristics:

  • They take risks by using provocative imagery or copy;
  • They use themes or story lines that are unconventional or thought-provoking; and
  • They are edgy and get people thinking and talking.

With these characteristics in mind, here are a few campaigns that showed exceptional courage in 2017.

1. Fearless Girl

This bronze statue of a Latina girl staring down Wall Street's Charging Bull was conceived to celebrate the first anniversary of State Street Global Advisors' Gender Diversity Index fund which, according to the company, "invests in U.S. large-capitalization companies that rank among the highest in their sector in achieving gender diversity across senior leadership." There is a plaque below the statue which reads, "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference." The ticker symbol of the Gender Diversity Index fund is SHE.

The statue was erected on March 7, the day before International Women's Day and originally received a permit to stand for one week. The permit was initially extended to 30 days, and then the statue was granted a one-year permit. Bloomberg estimates that the statue generated $7.4 million in free advertising for SSGA just in the first six weeks. The statue prompted dialogue across the world and won three awards at the Cannes Lions ad industry festival in France.

2. Worlds Apart

Heineken's Worlds Apart television spot pairs people, who unknowingly have opposite political views, together to assemble a piece of furniture. After they finish assembling a bar, they watch a short film that shows them describing themselves, revealing their differing viewpoints. Next, they are invited to leave or have a beer together. This ad lived up to its potential to be courageous and groundbreaking by demonstrating that political views do not need to be a barrier to people working together to achieve something or solve a problem.

3. Breaking2

In May, Nike broke new marketing ground with a campaign for its VaporFly Elite shoes that was almost doomed to fail. The company engaged three elite runners to attempt to complete a marathon in under two hours - a feat that had never been accomplished before. The company live streamed the race and then created a one-hour documentary.

The result was a finish time just 26 seconds shy of achieving the seemingly impossible two-hour goal, and the campaign was a huge win for Nike. By combining influencer and content marketing, the company achieved a total of two trillion impressions of its #Breaking2 hashtag, according to Brandwatch.

What can business owners learn from these courageous campaigns, especially if they don't have a marketing budget like State Street Global Advisors, Heineken, or Nike?

In this age of social media, the most important goal of a marketing campaign is to get people engaged and talking. People will discuss and share your message if it's funny, touching, personal, or provocative, but it should also be unique. Think outside the box about what your brand stands for and how you want people to perceive it, and then figure out how you can express that in a way that makes people sit up and take notice.

Above all, be true to your brand, and be courageous