In 1854, the British and French were fighting the Russians in the Crimean war.

The Light Brigade was led by Lord Cardigan, they were lined up in formation waiting impatiently for orders.

At the other end of the valley, over a mile away, were 50 Russian cannons.

On a hill above, Lord Raglan was in overall command, he could see some Russian troopstowing away a few guns they’d just captured.

He wanted the Light Brigade to go and stop them towing the guns away.

He wrote the order and handed it to Captain Nolan to deliver to Lord Cardigan.

The message said: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.”

But in the valley, Lord Cardigan couldn’t see the Russians towing the guns away.

When he asked Captain Nolan “What guns?” Nolan just gestured down the valley.

All Cardigan could see was the 50 cannons at the end of the valley.

And, so far as he was concerned, he’d just been ordered to attack these, which he did.

The charge was incredibly brave, 600 of the finest cavalry with nothing but swords and lances, charged straight into the mouths of 50 cannons and were slaughtered.

A French General observing the charge commented: “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. C’est de la folie. (It is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness.)

It was brave but it was a massacre, it had no chance of succeeding.

It was brave just for the sake of being brave.

This is my problem when agencies show a client ‘brave’ work, when agencies ask a client to be ‘brave’.

It sounds like being brave for the sake of being brave, not because it’s the smart thing to do.

The highest award for bravery is the Victoria Cross.

It’s awarded for, “The most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice.”

So the general understanding of ‘bravery’ is being scared stiff but doing it anyway.

What possible incentive is it to tell a client to run the ad even though he’s scared stiff?

What does bravery have to do with anything in our business?

What we should be doing is: smart, clever, audacious, unexpected, creative, all these words are concerned with business advantage.

Bravery has nothing to do with business advantage, quite the reverse.

The Victoria Cross associates bravery with self-sacrifice, that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be recommending.

First, a client needs to make sure they don’t jeopardise what they’ve got, and then they can concentrate on growing it.

No responsible client would gamble everything on a ‘brave’ risk, a self-sacrifice.

And yet agencies consistently complain that clients aren’t buying ‘brave’ work.

This is mainly because Cannes, and other award schemes, applaud ‘brave’ work.

Work that wins the highest awards is held up as being ‘brave’.

This is because the people on the jury confuse creativity with art, novelty, gimmicks, etc.

Therefore, people in ad agencies assume they should aim for ‘brave’ work, rather than effective work.


That’s why I think ‘brave’ is a silly word.

If I was a client I’d be suspicious of anyone asking me to buy work because it was brave.

I don’t think there’s any point in being brave for brave’s sake.

I think the point is to get a result, for that you require clever thinking, brave is irrelevant.