Making the
case for bravery

Making the
case for bravery

5 PR risks that really paid off

There are a lot of arguments for playing it safe - precedent makes it easier to predict success, you can protect your brand's public image, your shareholders won't shit themselves... But we think that sometimes there is serious value in taking a leap and doing something unpredictable with your brand.

Playing it safe will only get you so far because, let's be honest, nobody is telling their mates about the brand that promoted their 15% off sale with a picture of an excited dog. And sometimes, if you get it just right, stepping out of your comfort zone can project your brand straight from obscurity into infamy.

We've pulled together five of our favourite examples of brands getting weird and doing it right, to remind ourselves that playing it safe isn't always the best option.


Burger King - Milkshaking

Remember milkshaking? The trend that saw shitty right-wing figures like Nigel Farage doused in creamy, delicious beverages. It really did bring all the boys to the yard.

And then, remember McDonalds refusing to serve milkshakes in an attempt to calm the political storm and stop any more vulnerable politicians from getting stains on their designer suits?

Finally, remember Burger King's reaction?

Burger King

This was potentially a huge risk for their brand - they immediately alienated any right-wing burger lovers who would have surely been so offended they would be forced to go to KFC instead. It also got them involved in a moment which, arguably, has nothing to do with them - a stunt which has seen many brands labelled as 'fake woke' (See: Pepsi and Kendall Jenner).

The tweet itself ended up getting taken down after receiving 24 complaints, but not before it gained almost 24,000 retweets, over 108,000 likes, and national coverage across all the biggest news platforms including the BBC, The Times and The Guardian.

That's a huge wave of brand awareness for Burger King, it cemented them as a brand that supports youth activism and gave them a voice that was political but not off-putting. Not bad for a tweet.


Marmite - Love it or Hate it

It feels like Marmite's infamous 'love it or hate it' attitude has been embedded in British culture since time began, like queuing and passive aggressive tutting, but it was actually the brainchild of a marketing team in 1996.

marmite love it or hate it board game 85990 0 1 e1576580163184

It seems wild to think that a brand would promote themselves as something that literally half of the country won't ever enjoy, because it goes against everything that Marketing University teaches us, but that's exactly what they did.

And the result was that it became arguably the most recognisable brand in British culture. If you've ever described someone or something as being 'a bit like marmite', you've fallen hook, line and sinker for a marketing campaign from the 90s. Don't worry, we all fell for it.

There aren't many things that are riskier than telling half the world NOT to buy your product, but in doing so Marmite played on our strongest emotions - love and hate. They polarized the nation, and as recent events have proven, this nation is obsessed with being polarized.

It's become ingrained in our culture, and even 13 years on it's still going strong.


Gillette - The Best Men Can Be


This advert went right for the jugular when it told men that they weren't the greatest thing since sliced bread and should maybe consider perhaps being slightly less gropey if it’s not too much trouble.

This was a bold move, especially considering that their entire target audience is male, and have spent the last million years being told by their razor blade companies that they are the dog’s bollocks. To flip that on its head and quite literally hold a mirror up to men's behaviour could have massively backfired.

What actually happened was they started a lot of meaningful conversations, and they made a lot of people question the messages that men are usually given, which are essentially 'you're smashing it guys, carry on'.

They achieved widespread national coverage, started trending on social media, and positioned themselves as a brand that kind of gives a shit about equality. All in all, a pretty good pay-off.


Deadpool - Valentine's Day Poster

Deadpool is a brutal, violent, filthy and hilarious movie about a sarcastic wise-guy superhero who at one point gets aggressively pegged by his girlfriend.

The creators decided to advertise it as a romantic comedy, perfect to take your girlfriend to watch on Valentine's Day.



The risk with this excellent piece of marketing was that hundreds of people probably went to watch it under completely false pretences and possibly came out of the cinema screen either asking for their money back or in a Valentine's Day domestic.

The reward was the hilarity and uproar in the superhero movie community, and the campaign spreading like wildfire across news outlets and, yet again, social media. It fit the message of the movie and the superhero perfectly and will live on in our memories forever as one of the greatest movie advertisements of all time.


Paddy Power - Everything

Paddy Power

This is kind of cheating, but we couldn’t choose which campaign we loved the most, and this is our blog, so we get to do what we want with it.

Paddy Power’s marketing campaigns have been consistently giving political correctness and British prude-ishness the middle finger for years. At this point, it would be riskier for them to run with something 'safe' and look like they've lost their bottle. They know that their brand is already inherently morally dubious - they promote gambling - so they play to the strength of that and target 'lad humour' and controversy.

From Pitting Rhodri and Ryan Giggs against each other in their 'loyalty’s dead' campaign, to sticking 'we won’t shit in your coffee' posters up after 'off the scale faecal bacteria' was found in Costa, Starbucks and Nero, it feels like the marketing team over at Paddy Power have absolutely no fear of risking it all.

Their big balls have had big results, as they currently have over 522,000 backlinks, and while we can’t be bothered to check every single one, we're willing to bet that most of them are from high quality sites reporting on their latest shock tactic.

The direct effect of this is that they are the top organic search result for 'football betting', 'horse betting', 'cricket betting' and 'politics betting'. We could all learn a thing or two from these cheeky bastards.


Basically, what we're saying is that Darkhorse believes in risks. Sure, playing it safe has its place, but what's the point in having a platform if you don't use it to say something bold once in a while? And who knows, it might even pay off.


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