On courage and censorship

Morgan Booker // Jun 5 // Insights

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We’ve all censored ourselves before. It’s a gut-check we do before speaking or hitting send; it’s playing the doormat, the red-faced bottle of rage, the hesitant one. You know self-censorship by the indigestion it causes.

It’s ingrained in us as Americans, as artists, and as advertisers. We’ve all been told, or told ourselves, “you can’t do that.” We know it’s subjective, sometimes without even knowing where the limits lie.

It takes courage to not censor ourselves, as it takes courage to do the opposite. Yet the greatest thinkers of all time have set their course by this conviction: that culture progresses forward into unexpected and enlightened realms only through brave new ideas, enduring truths, and very big balls.

So, creatives: don’t self-censor.

Wikipedia: Self-censorship is the act of censoring or classifying one's own work out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities or preferences (actual or perceived) of others without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority. Self-censorship can also occur in order to conform to the expectations of the market.

This manifests in all kinds of ways:

“We want there to be finality and urgency in the call to action, just… without saying death, or suffering, or end-of-life, or sad dark stuff, you know.”

"We want it to be sexy, of course, without offending Dalmatian owners or still-nursing puppies, if possible."

“The side effects should be clearly listed, we just need to put a positive spin on them, like genital bloat being a good thing, see what I mean…?"

Brands, Media, PR, all y’all: let’s defy expectations. Good work thrives on freedom of expression, and good things happen when we stop second-guessing, and start stopping people in their tracks. We all have the power to be surprising.

Today’s advertising is already pushing the boundaries of technology and exploring the landscapes of sociology. The next step we can take as creative crusaders is carrying our work into frontiers usually reserved for art: being provocative and relevant with it, communicating to the world in a way that is emotional, beautiful, stark, smart, authentic and truthful.

From Fast Co: “Truth really is the only sustainable advantage."

This also applies to being the only person at work with Comic-Con tickets.

Let’s be courageous.

Brand bravery is looking in untried, undiscovered directions. It’s fighting for the right idea, even if it doesn’t fit in the current food chain. It’s rolling up your sleeves and asking big questions. It’s being disobedient. It’s definitely giving a damn.

Let’s think outside the little black censorship box. Challenge current conceptions and existing institutions. Let’s ask, “What if we can do this idea after all, what if we can find a way? Are we daring enough to be the first?"

Creatives: Do you dismiss your wildest ideas? Does your team?

Does the strategy department puzzle together the kind of bold convictions that has the disgruntled senior copywriter saying “Hell yes!” even before imbibing beer?

An idea that at conception seems too risky, too brazen, can remain unexplored because of what the agency or the client fear will happen when we execute it—and a whole generation of people might never fall in love with a brand that spoke a truth they didn’t know they needed to hear.

It’s a fact: consumers want brands to communicate honestly and act with integrity. Authenticity is no longer an option in this explosive digital decade. So if a brand is not just a product, but also a personality, and it’s being true to its self and its consumers—why not “let it rip?”

Okay, I’m in. Now what?

If the walls at i.d.e.a. could speak, they’d say, “Creative Culture + Creative Attitude = Creative Work.” Be confident in yourself. Be confident in your brand. Smile on a rainy day. Accept advice and speak up. Try not to eat the kind of lunch that makes it difficult to escape a burning building or present on the fly. Don’t censor yourself.

Trust me, I’m still working on this. It’s not easy. But it helps to have fantastic leaders, Daniel Andreani.

So, guys, I’ve thought about it, and here’s my theory on how beautiful baby ideas are born:

Freedom = Fertility, Censorship = Sterility.

Listen to your gut, your mentors, your audience and your better half. And don’t hold back.

Why does any of this matter, anyway?

Courageous brands break from the mainstream consciousness. They move things forward. Cause ripple reactions. Slay problems. Generate entrepreneurs. They speak above a whisper and write above a nursery rhyme.

There’s strength in numbers: the more brands emerge as courageous, the better it is for the consumer. The brands expose each other’s follies and flaws, correct each other’s mistakes, and cancel out each other’s biases. The consumer has free range to poke holes, explore, find truths and fall in love with the one that resonates. It’s a good thing.

(That being said, let’s hear it for brave social media folks. They have a hard job: toeing the sometime unpredictable line between public devotion and public outcry every day.)

Okay. Say we think and labor endlessly on something phenomenal for a courageous client, only to have it scrapped or taken down. That’s okay. Once we’ve put it out there, the idea is bigger than us. It can fade, or it can grow, but it can’t be erased. Or maybe we’re forced to fall on the sword and pull down our own well-meaning creation for the sake of controversy. If anything, remember that for the right brand, a little controversy can generate a lot of conversation.

A cool dude named James Russell Lowell once said, "Fate loves the fearless.”

If all this smacks as being a bit big for its britches, you’re probably right. But hey, what’s living without dreaming, or a career in rock and roll advertising without ambition, craziness, danger, and fun?

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