THE BLOG

Audacity, Bravery, Commitment, Ambition

09/12/2013 13:06 GMT | Updated 05/02/2014 10:59 GMT

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On 9 November 9th of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. I was 16 at the time and I remember watching events unfold live on television. As I and the rest of the world stopped and watched, spell-bound, thousands of Germans from East and West swung sledgehammers and pick axes and clawed with their bare hands at this concrete symbol of a divided world.

I'd been on a school trip to Germany the year before, seen the border, the sentry guards in their towers with their rifles and fixed stares. I remember the tears in my school teacher's eyes.

As footage of falling mortar spanned the globe, I recall no one being sure what was going on. Was the Cold War over? Had the Arms Race bankrupted the Soviet Union? Was Communism over?

In response, I remember the then US President, George Bush saying, "We live in fascinating times." And that was pretty much it, the full extent of the analysis coming publicly out of the White House.

The first affirmative comment I read about the fall of the Berlin Wall came a little time after when I opened a newspaper and saw the photo of a poster pasted to the wall. The poster: Saatchi & Saatchi, "First over the wall", plastered on the Eastern side.

Some said it was disrespectful to those 200 people who had lost their lives trying to escape across the wall and into the West - but being disrespectful was the very last intention.

For me, very simply, 'First over the Wall' was up there as being as bold and audacious as gestures get. Insanely opportunistic. A comment on the future. A comment on the inevitable march of consumerism East.

It was one poster that made me want to work in advertising, and to work for Saatchi & Saatchi, both of which I went on to do.

I use one poster from a distant past as exemplar to a much bigger and very 21st century idea: that AUDACITY, BRAVERY, COMMITMENT and AMBITION are, I believe, essential to success, even greatness, in our digital age.

Consider Red Bull's space jump. Being oft-cited doesn't make it less instructive. Both Saatchi's poster and Red Bull Stratos are acts of sheer audacity and absolute bravery.

Red Bull may be the most popular energy drink in the world. They may have sold 5.2 billion cans last year in 165 countries. But what they sell doesn't limit them from all that they want to be. Red Bull own football teams in Germany, the US and South America. They own two formula 1 racing team. They own a record label, Red Bull Records. And of course, Red Bull's greatest fame has come from their association with extreme sports - their most extreme gesture being to sponsor Austrian Felix Baumgartner to free-fall from the edge of space. The statistics are staggering.

Baumgartner fell from an altitude of 24 miles above the Earth. He reached a speed of 844 mph, which means he broke the speed of sound, went supersonic, broke Mach 1, reached 1.25 Mach. He was in free-fall for 4 minutes 19 seconds, the entire jump from leaving the capsule to landing back on Earth was just under 11 minutes.

And you bet, he could have died.

I watched the jump live on YouTube thinking, we could all be watching an 8 minute-long falling corpse, which will do nothing for Red Bull's brand affinity scores. If this all goes south, those score are going to go through the floor, right along with Felix.

But history will show that fortune favoured the brave and Felix made it down safely - and I believe the future will be defined by the brave and audacious, in all their forms.

Nike is 49 year old manufacturer of running shoes that is in rude health because it's turned digital native, has built a series of physical and digital products that orbit consumers, allowing us all to more easily live and express a "Just Do It" lifestyle. Nike, like Red Bull, do not limit themselves by constraining definitions of what they are.

Where Jay Leno declared, "I don't know what TV is anymore," I believe it's a very good thing if we all embrace the idea of not knowing what we are. "Not knowing" removes the straightjacket.

Blockbusters never went knocking on Kevin Spacey's door. Look how that turned out. While Netflix figured the best possible ad they could make was a brilliant TV series - maybe one of the best and longest TV "ads" of all time?

With House of Cards, Netflix made TV history, won three Emmy's earlier this year, the first time an 'online-only' show has ever bagged an Emmy.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos boldly nailed his colours to the mast in a recent interview: "The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us." It's my favourite quote of the year. It also parallels a similar declaration from Vice founder Shane Smith, who shared his wish to make Vice the next CNN.

20 years ago, Vice was an underground music magazine handed out for free on the streets of Montreal. Today, Vice is a global brand with offices in 34 countries, and very soon to be a 24-hour terrestrial news channel available in 18 countries. Vice have also become documentary makers, partnering with HBO. Like Red Bull, they too have a record label, as well as an ad agency, Virtue, which numbers Nike among its clients.

Each of us arrived screaming into the light. And no one knows exactly how long they have before the lights are switched off. The only thing that really matters is what you do with the space in-between.

I've always abhorred the play-it-safe Teflon wearers of the world, but my adoration is endless for 'The Definers' who dare to defy and refuse to self-define. Audacity, bravery, commitment and ambition: what better way to use the space in between?

SP.