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Risky business at the DMNews Creative Jam

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"Risk" was the word of the day at the DMNews Creative Jam today -- used by everyone from keynote speakers to roundtable participants. This particular roundtable participant was no exception.

I sat in on a Creative Jam Session moderated by John Palisay, VP and creative director, Draftfcb. Our topic, "The Ethics and Standards of Risk," proved a difficult one to grasp in the mere 45 minutes we were given. Participants all had a different definition for "risk," and almost all had different definitions for "ethics" as well (a bit disconcerting), but the trickiest part of the discussion was figuring out how the two concepts overlap, or should.

Is it ethical for an agency to put interesting creative first, thus possibly taking a risk with a company's brand? Is it ethical for a company to go along with a potentially offensive idea presented by the agency? How do you make interesting marketing messages that convey a company's ethical standards? How many buttons, and which ones, can you push to walk that line between building interest and building public ire?

Many of our button-pushing examples focused on portrayals of sex and sexuality. Is it ethical for Unilever to market Dove under a pro-women banner and objectify them for Axe ads? When both campaigns are such wild successes, does it matter?

Of course, in all matters, it's important to be ethical. Responsible agencies and their clients know that. But it's also important to take risks. Risks and ethics are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some of our Jam Session participants argued that, if you're not taking risks, you're not doing your job as an agency. It's up to agencies and their clients to figure out which lines to walk and which to cross.
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