Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:15:39 GMT
It’s mid March and, regardless of where you are in the world, that can only mean one thing: St Patrick’s Day. Trefoils in your Guinness, embarrassing green hats, The Best of The Pogues played on a loop, pretending you have an Irish Granny and nursing a tremendous hangover – it’s all part of the ‘craic’. But this year the festivities have been punctuated by an unseasonal thoughtfulness – Heineken, Sam Adams and that most iconic of Irish brands, Guinness – pulled out of the Paddy’s Day parades in Boston and New York in protest against the exclusion of gay and lesbian groups. And far from being party poopers, the three drinks brands have come together to prove that a loud, belligerent ‘NO!’ can really be a joyous thing to be part of.
It was perhaps inevitable, particularly given the social media drubbing that Olympics sponsors like Coca Cola and McDonald’s received for their loud silence on gay rights in the run up to the Sochi games. Whether driven by drinkers or board directors, the decision by the major brewers was a bold move to make particularly as all three have supported the parades for years. But ultimately having a point of view and a set of principles that actually mean something can only make a brand stronger, more real and more trustworthy.
The lip service around brands ‘doing good’ and ‘being transparent’ has grown from a whisper to an excitable hubbub, but it’s a strategy that comes with some degree of risk if you have no intention of standing by your fine and fancy words. In personal relationships, studies have shown that betrayal can lead to a kind of ‘mental contamination’ associated with the liar in question – and that same feeling of betrayal has been documented in brands that make promises they don’t keep and can even lead to ‘retaliation’ behaviour. The point is, if you’re going to bang on about inclusion and equality in your advertising, you have to be prepared to let rip with a big ‘no!’ from time to time.
It’s a point that’s just as important in areas of the ad industry other than the top-level branding stuff. I recently spoke with one senior member of a post house who had turned down a project because the time frame and budget would have resulted in a substandard piece of work; it was the sort of project that lay viewers would easily spot as being weird and off-kilter had it not been executed perfectly. And that, in turn, would hurt the post house’s brand. Of course, given the economic climate of the past few years, saying ‘no’ can often be a luxury that few can afford. But does flexibility and hunger mean that we have to compromise all of our principles?
Perhaps it’s a case of choosing our battles?
Social psychologist Susan Newman reckons that people-pleasing behaviour is drummed into most of us in our childhood – but I would add that most of the advice I’ve seen doled out to young people in the advertising industry is of the ‘grab every opportunity/say yes to everything’ variety. And while that certainly means you can get a lot of hours out of graduates, it means there’s also a raft of people coming up through the industry without learning and discerning how and when to say ‘no’. Just think of the firebrand creative superstars who have made their mark in advertising – would they be where they are if they went through their work life nodding gormlessly?
At the end of last year I spoke to Lowe SSP3’s Jose Miguel Sokoloff and one sentence really stuck with me: “I’ve always thought that you can’t advertise a product you don’t believe in because eventually it shows.” And if that’s the case, either we avoid the situation by recruiting only ruthless mercenaries or we accept that a bit of integrity and thoughtlessness means we have to deal with the occasional ‘no’.
No doubt some of you reading this must think I’m being awfully negative. But I must protest. A ‘yes’ isn’t worth anything if you don’t have the opportunity to say ‘no’. And being overwhelming positive about absolutely everything just results in flappy, pointless enthusiasm. If I need an endless supply of wagging tails and slobbery kisses I’ll get a dog. Turning things down doesn’t have to be about being obstinate or uncollaborative, it’s just that one of the keys to creativity is knowing when to ditch a poor idea and when to persist with something that could become great.
And so, in the spirit of St Patrick’s Day and the three bolshy drinks brands, I invite you to raise a glass of the black stuff to the power of ‘no’. Or… y’know… don’t.