By: Jerry Judge


“I want to be average.” “I want to be mediocre.” “I want to be safe.”  I’ve never heard any client say they want that for their company. Yet so much of modern advertising, from TV to Twitter is dull. Why?


It’s rare to meet unintelligent clients (well, sort of rare). Or for that matter, stupid agency people (OK. Same proportion as for clients). So what happens? How do well informed people discover their “inner bore?” Because that’s what it is.


And it’s how The Fearless Group was born. We studied and discussed and studied some more the issue of low return on advertising investment and we came to the conclusion that fear makes bad business and even worse advertising. And when I say studied, I mean hundreds of books, articles and learned papers. And we have a particular interest in the work of Dr. Ralph Kilmann an academic who has spent years working on understanding the affect of fear on business.


In amongst the mountain of papers and books an article on fear in the New York Times of December 7, 2008, got our attention. It said, “The most concrete thing neuroscience tells us, is that when the fear system of our brain is active, exploratory activity and risk taking are turned off.” Exploratory thinking. Risk taking. I wonder how often Steve Jobs turns his off? Or how often Bill Bernbach turned his off? Or if Yarcey Strickler at KickStarter ever had it to turn off? Yet once you start the group discussions and the in depth interviews the respondents are quick to tell the truth. “Look, I have a mortgage. I’m not going for ads my CFO won’t understand.” Now the CFO is the target of the advertising. The old adage that “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM” was rooted in a business strategy called Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Or FUD. You’d be surprised how many modern executives refer to this bit of nonsense when defending their own petrified behavior. Or maybe you wouldn’t.


So, did all this work tell us anything valuable? We think it did. We have been working on antidotes to fear and ways of neutralizing its effects in marketing. We have adjusted the way we think and discarded some of our own baggage. We really do value humility in engaging with clients and the consumer. We have tools and systems that will encourage honesty and openness. Above all we have questions that help our clients challenge conventional behavior in a fast changing world. And we have our sense of humor.


It’s worth searching for “quotes on fear.” It’s where we started back in early 2010. There are some clever and humbling observations. But I guess we should’ve started our quest in Hoboken, because Frank Sinatra wins the Fearless Group, Man Of The Moment award.  He said, “Fear is the enemy of logic.” We love that. We think he was right. Thanks Blue Eyes.