Given the possibilities opened up by new platforms and technology we should be in the golden age of advertising. Instead we have as an industry got stuck in the weeds, and used technology more to obfuscate than to enlighten. Understandably, consumers have had enough, and have in many cases completely blocked us out.
The best work at Cannes Lions was a rebellion against this miserable state of affairs. It was a celebration of honest advertising that is explicit about its purpose. At the same time, we saw the very notion of brand purpose elevated to new heights, as brands have to make themselves matter more to an ever more cynical and demanding consumer.
Here are four key takeaways for marketers:
Make ads good again
Advertising is a paid-for public notice designed to grab attention and communicate a specific message. However, thanks to the murkiness associated with advertising today, the industry has been shying away from this definition, edging towards ads that don’t feel like ads, branded ‘content,’ and endorsements where it is not clear whether or not a brand is paying. This then perpetuates the notion of an industry ashamed of its own dishonest practices.
In Songs of Violence, songs with violent lyrics were paired with ads which showed real-world video testimonials of sexual abuse. The goal was to shock listeners into realizing that violent lyrics perpetrate these actions in the real-world. This is advertising that demands to be noticed and to stop people in their tracks. It leverages technology in the right way, which is to enable next-level juxtaposition for maximum impact.
Do something, don’t just say something
Straight forward ads these days struggle to be seen, let alone change perception. This applies even more to low interest categories that ask a lot of consumers, especially younger ones who have better things to do. This is the situation faced by the Romanian government who sought to combat the country’s critically low blood donorship. They needed to convince people that giving blood mattered. They accomplished this by tapping into what really did matter to them: the Pay with blood campaign allowed people to buy a ticket to a concert by using their blood, as an alternative to cash, as currency. This was not just about ‘borrowed interest’ – but about putting themselves at the heart of what their target most desired.
Reinvent what you do to make an impact
A brand’s core product may not keep up with the demands of what matters to consumers, as is the case in the declining beer category. To circumvent this issue, DB Export in New Zealand came up with Brewtroleum, a biofuel produced during the beer-making process, and sold at gas stations. The more men drank, the more gas was produced, and the more good they were doing for the planet, enabling the compelling campaign slogan: “drink tonight for a better tomorrow.” Brands need to be dynamic at their core, ready to reinvent to put themselves at the heart of what matters in an increasingly cluttered world.
Have a well-defined character at the ready
Most brands are fearful of being openly challenged and have legal departments at the ready to deal with these sticky moments. The reality is that big brands with cultural influence will forever be held to ransom for their actions and beliefs. Brands are better off treating these not as threats to brush under the carpet, but as opportunities to capitalize on a vocal and ready audience.
With McWhopper, Burger King took on the age-old rivalry with McDonalds. Burger King acted this out in its brand character: it was a cheeky, testy act from an underdog, who like a featherweight boxer, was poised to take on any response that came its way. Had McDonald’s been in possession of a well-honed brand character at the ready, it could have used Burger King’s ad investment to win respect for its own brand I.stead it ended up the party-pooper while Burger King triumphed, acquiring millions of fans in the process.
In order to get noticed and to be respected, brands need to be and do what consumers care about. They need a well-defined character, which they must act out with purpose and personality. They need to constantly interrogate their actions, and be prepared to reinvent themselves to continue to matter in keeping with the times. With this strategy in place, brands can feel confident and proud about putting themselves out into the world. And maybe just maybe, ads can become good again.