Uncomfortable excitement

Posted by Jenni Armstrong on 05 June 2013

“If something is big enough to make a difference, it should be overwhelmingly exciting but at the same time should scare us shitless…”

This post extract, which comes from the blog of Chiara Pelizzari, a graduate of the Squared pilot in 2012, demonstrates an interesting mindset the Squared experience is designed to develop.

Towards the end of last year, I went along to a question and answer session with Google CFO, Patrick Pichette. Following a grand introduction and a huge round of applause, a small man in a red fleece and jeans took to the stage.

‘Everybody needs a day job. This just happens to be mine.’

Despite being the epitome of success, Pichette is seriously down to earth. And we’re not talking Google Earth here, I mean earth earth.

Though he shares the common ‘googlyness’ of all the global giant’s employees, Pichette hasn’t allowed himself to be overcome by it and takes pride in the fact that he can connect so well with any individual on any level.

In fact, he attributes his success to that very trait. Before meeting Patrick, Eric Schmidt interviewed over 100 people all suited and booted and desperate for the job but none of them quite fit the bill.Then Pichette came along, met Schmidt for a coffee one day and was made CFO the next.

As you can imagine he’s a pretty remarkable man and I could easily ramble on about his life and successes but you can find all that out on Wikipedia. Instead I’d like to focus on a phrase which he introduced us to, a phrase which he believes is key to changing the world: ‘uncomfortable excitement’.

I took from that that if something is big enough to make a difference, it should be overwhelmingly exciting but at the same time should scare us shitless. Why? Because the outcome is completely unknown and whereas it could result in un-paralleled success, it could also end in complete disaster. If it doesn’t have the potential to end in disaster, then it isn’t big enough.

This set me off thinking about the way we approach advertising campaigns.

We often use an exercise in brainstorms called ‘Scaling’ whereby one person will come up with a crazy, potentially unrealistic idea and we’ll pass it around the group with each person scaling it down slightly until after six turns, it has transformed into a feasible concept. That somehow doesn’t make sense anymore. Understandably we’re subjected to budget and time constraints but wherever possible, we should be scaling ideas up rather than down.

Okay, we might not be changing the world (although some brands you work on might!) but we are essentially trying to make change through a grand project.

Our campaign objective should always be to create an impact big enough to alter people’s attitudes and behaviour towards us so we should be working towards that same world-changing feeling.

I think Red Bull is a great example of a brand that succeeds in creating that ‘uncomfortable excitement’.

Their recent Stratosphere campaign with Felix Baumgartner was in many ways insane and yet absolutely spot on.

Every single viewer tuned in to watch Baumgartner launch up into space in realtime would have experienced the very feeling we’ve been discussing.

Nobody knew whether he would make it back down to Earth; nobody could be sure of the outcome.

Minutes before take off, there was a shared consensus across the world that this could either be one of the biggest events in airspace history or a complete and utter tragedy. Quite the definition of uncomfortable excitement, I think.

Of course in this instance, the campaign was a success. Felix not only survived, but he also happened to break the record for the highest ever free fall jump ever and attracted an audience of over 8 million whilst doing so.Red Bull have won countless awards and will forever be remembered as being the most daring brand of 2013.

It’s difficult to imagine how the story would have played out if Felix hadn’t have made it but what we can be sure of is that either way, this one stunt is worth far more than any standard traditional media campaign could ever have been.

Pichette insists that even if 50% of the time you fail horribly, the other 50% of times which you succeed will leave you in a far better position than if your track record was ’100% just okay.’ Nothing can really go wrong with an animated zebra-beats-up-crocodile-and-makes-handbag TV ad but can anything really go right with it either? It’s just that; just okay.

I should probably point out that I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to hurtle people into space each time we want to create that uncomfortable exciting sensation.

Essentially it’s about handing over the control and this can be done in far less death-defying ways. A good example from last year would be the Curators of Sweden campaign whereby the Swedish Tourist Office handed over their Twitter account to every day Swedish people, giving them full control.

There were no rules and no limits, so the campaign really could go either way. It created a whole load of excitement but became uncomfortable at times when sensitive and potentially controversial matters were touched upon. There was just no way of knowing what would be said next.

I’ve heard many people give inspiring talks on taking risks and pushing challenges but something about Pichette’s delivery really got to me. Perhaps because he does just seem like such a normal guy; he really makes you believe that if he can do it, so can you. So let’s do it.

And now, as they say at Google, ‘Get back to work.’