Lockdowns have locked us into the familiar. We see less of the weird and wonderful of the real world. We’re plugged into screens. The world seems smaller, more homogenous. A bit scary. To escape, people spend time in other worlds. Worlds like 'The Crown' and 'Raised by Wolves'. A bit bonkers, right? But these fantastical worlds have to be more fantastic to capture our imagination.
Whilst we are seeing it in the entertainment worlds it hasn’t quite breached advertising. Brands are no longer fighting to stand out in the commercial break. Brands are fighting to stand out against all the wonderful and weird shit on the web and the worlds of Netflix. Advertising has to be more than targeting info to eyeballs. Brands live in the lump between your ears. The grey matter is the only place that matters. It’s the most valuable media space in the world, it’s free and once they get there, they can live there for years, maybe decades.
If a company wants their brand to capture the imagination, and live there for years, the solution isn’t just a targeted ‘ad’, it’s got to be a big positively entertaining brand world. One that demands attention, grabs your eyeballs, races through the heart and smashes into the brain, screaming “Fuck me, what a ride!"
Many brands aren’t competing hard enough in this new reality. They’re not creating brand worlds that transport us, blow our minds and can live in the popular imagination. Everyday, too much cheap content is made to fill media gaps. Brands lean into new technologies, performance marketing, powerful algorithms and big data, pushing messages to eyeballs with ruthless efficiency. It’s seductive. And it sometimes works, in the short term.
But the advertising is formulaic, unimaginative and simply tactical. One click, and they’re gone. (If you click). Like single-use plastic, content has become ad pollution. It’s damaging the principles of effective communication. Advertising is slowly losing its artistry, relying on rational science and the mechanical obedience to targeting. It’s fucking boring and isn’t fit for purpose…
For me, the most effective brand worlds are positively bonkers; imaginative and full of character. Positivity attracts people, unifies people, creates a magnetic pull towards your brand and embeds deep memories. They live alongside your most treasured memories: Snogging Jane Harris in the bus shelter on Grimsby road. Giving her my last Rolo.
These worlds have substance, compelling narratives and characters, to unify touchpoints; a gravity to pull communications together. That can evolve, embrace new ideas and be built up over time. The more creative communities cultivate them, the bigger they become, the more a brand grows in the future.
For example, growing up I loved superheroes - it’s a truly bonkers idea, men dressed in colourful spandex with incredible powers, saving the world from master criminals with equally bonkers powers and costumes. This is a huge brand world that continues to grow eighty years later. I still haven’t been bitten by radioactive spider yet, but I always thought my power was an overactive imagination...
When I met my creative partner, Adam Chiappe, we shared the same ambition. To create big, positively bonkers worlds that lived in culture, in the imagination. We merged skateboarding with cars, to create a unique sport for Nissan. A male cow for Boddingtons. Yes, I know cows are not male, but that was the point, it was bonkers and people talked about it. We created a distinct American sitcom for a German sausage: ZOMTEC.
So, let’s be less reactive and short term. We need to strive to live in people’s imagination - well into the future. Be a little less rational and a bit more off beat. Embrace nonsense to wake up the brain cells. Create a world of magic and wonder - fantasy is a necessary ingredient in life. Strive to make people laugh until their bellies wobble. Be positively bonkers. For I’ll tell you a secret, the best types usually are…
And if you do, it’s amazing what changes in the short term too.
For your ideas will be alive in the popular imagination.
Now, and well into the future.
Maybe in 2050.
- Matthew Saunby, ECD, 2050 London