The word ‘brave’ is thrown around Adland a lot these days. Brave campaigns. Brave agencies.
Brave brands. Most of the time the word is used to express the display of 'courage' or 'moral strength’ by said recipient of accolade. I’m sorry, but let’s leave the term ‘brave’ for non-commercial acts of moral strength.
But bold, well, that’s another thing. The definition of 'beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; imaginative’ seems apt. I can work with that. Basically it’s work that sticks out.
Semantics aside, how does one produce work that goes beyond the limits of conventional thought or action? How do agencies and brands create ‘imaginative’ work?
Whilst there obviously isn’t a paint by numbers approach to this, Goody Bag reached out to the brains behind several pieces of imaginative creative work to hear about the process and how their unconventional thought became bold work.
Thea Emanuelsen and Anders Holm from Norwegian agency POL have worked on numerous bold campaigns for Norwegian sex toy retailer, Kondomeriet. Their latest film focused on the relationship between a man and his hand in order to promote the retailers selection of male sex toys.
One could assume that the mission from the get go was to be provocative, when in fact their idea was grounded in research and self love:
“Research told us that although men are interested in sex toys, most of them don’t own one. Or if they did, they didn’t want to tell anyone. But self love is also love. So we wanted to raise attention about sex toys for men. When the theme was set the idea of the relationship came up pretty early in the process. It was one of those ideas that pops up fully formed in the brain, along with the music score and everything.”
For Marko Vuorensola, ECD and co-founder of Finnish agency We Are Open, the intention of ‘Monsters’, his award winning film campaign for Children’s foundation ‘Fragile Childhood’, was never to shock or be particularly bold, but simply to do things differently than they had conventionally been done.
“In the past people have tip-toed around the impact of alcohol abuse on children or focused on saying ‘do this’, ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’. At that time, communication was mostly focused on the negative results of parental alcohol abuse and from the perspective of adults, social institutes, health workers and such. We wanted to change that and turn it around to focus on the child’s point of view.
For me it was important and necessary to find a new angle. Something original that, as a result, would end up standing out.”
Despite news outlets like CNN labelling the film ‘shocking’, Marko never saw it that way.
‘I never thought about it in those terms. The whole campaign was founded on a universal truth and thought provoking insight that was based on real experiences. You could say our approach embodies the idea of ‘don’t comfort me with a lie, rather, wake me up with the hurt’.
Bold ideas simply hover in the ether unless the client is onboard. For some, the process is easier than others. Rachel Sato Banks was part of the team at 72andSunny Amsterdam working on Axe’s ASMR ‘Shavetorials’.
“When my partner at the time, Christian Baur, and I came up with the idea for 'Shavetorials', we had a few wacky ideas we thought Axe would enjoy. As a client, they were great and didn't take much convincing. Sure they didn't want us to use the prosthetic life-like 'balls' we were hoping to slide in (we opted for coconuts instead), but all in all they were pretty trusting which is so so rare and so appreciated in this current landscape.”
Similarly Kondomeriet ‘fell in love at first sight’ with Thea and Anders’ idea, although they did bring safer ideas to the table as well.
“We’ve done some pretty crazy and fun projects with the client before, and it has always worked out great. A couple of years ago we made a campaign called ‘Foodporn’, which went viral. I still stumble upon that spot on different online forums, and although we lost count I think it probably has close to 400 million views, if not more. So the bar has been set pretty high.”
Marko and his team, on the other hand, only presented the single ‘Monsters’ idea.
“It was this or nothing. I had spent four to six months giving it time, planning and searching for the right insight. When I found it, I immediately knew and felt it was the one we had to go forward with to produce a script on it and start talking with Mikko, the director. I had a strong relationship with our client, based on mutual trust and openness, so no alternatives were needed.”
Great thinkers need great makers and a bold idea in the wrong hands can kill the intended effect. Rachel and her team knew the director choice was tied so closely to the success of the creative.
“We were sure we wanted to try to go with a female director, as the obvious 'white straight male bro' wasn't really the progressive choice a concept like this needed. But finding someone with the right tone and sense of humour was important.”
For me, finding the right director is a lot about collaboration. I think the days of tyrannical diva directors are almost completely gone. Or maybe, I just don't care how sick your music video with <insert problematic male rapper name> was. I care about what value you are adding to a production for everyone involved, how collaborative you can be with those who also want to make the best out of the time, money and talent we have. Not for the client, but for ourselves and any teenage boy out there who has been shaving their balls wrong all the way into adulthood.
Likewise, Thea & Anders knew that The Perlorians https://hobbyfilm.com/directors/the-perlorian-brothers/the-relationship/?directors=The%20Perlorian%20Brothers were the right fit.
“We’ve been fans of the Perlorian Brothers for a long time. We just love their work and how they always manage to bring something new and different to their films, so we decided to take our chances and send them our script. They challenged the script in a few ways, and it ended up being, in our eyes, a beautiful piece that stands out on the screen.”
For some the overall production approach is a key foundation for elevating a strong idea to a bold one. Lena Sellman, agency producer at the renowned Forsman& Bodenfors, worked on the award winning The E.V.A. Initiative, a Volvo initiative to share research and data to increase gender equality in car safety.
Lena describes the decision to approach the E.V.A spot from a VFX angle, a decision that gave visual weight to help deliver the powerful message of the film:-
“After watching crash tests and how the body moves, the creatives saw similarities with performance dancing. This, and inspiration from a video where sound was visualized with VFX, led to the idea of visualizing car crash injuries with VFX. “
Context & Placement
Where a piece of work is displayed can be as equally or even bolder than the creative itself. Just look at Oatly’s latest film shown during the Super Bowl. Whilst the spot had previously been aired (and in fact banned in Sweden due to opposing dairy lobbyists), it’s placement during a barrage of big budget productions elevated a simple and fun film to bold campaign, as witnessed by the immense media and industry attention the film received post match.
The Common Thread
When looking closely, a common thread can be seen across these and other bold campaigns; the unconventional and imaginative ideas are, at their very core, simply very good.
Many of the above cases didn’t need a hard sell to the client because the creatives knew their tastes and presented good ideas. Clients like good ideas. Audiences like good ideas. If the idea isn’t good, what could have been a bold campaign becomes simply ‘loud’.
With that in mind, perhaps our industry should be less focused on being ‘brave', ‘bold' or ‘innovate' and instead go back to focusing on the fundamentals, like good ideas.