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Why This Is the Time to Be More Martian

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Amelia Redding, planning partner at Leo Burnett UK explains how brands can take a leaf out of Mark Whatney's book and learn to adapt during another uncertain year

Image credit: Juli Kosolapova via Unsplash

Uncertainty characterises the times, as we enter another volatile long year navigating the cost of living crisis, with brands racing to both protect their sales and margins and be empathetic to cash-strapped consumers. 

Whilst, thanks to inflation, being fairly cash-strapped themselves.

Which means that what brands put their money behind to connect with and win consumers needs to be smart. Very smart.  

We believe the opportunity is for brands to identify ways to ‘Do more with less’.  

Reinvention, reframing, upcycling, are a requirement of the financial, social, eco climate, and this is where opportunity lies for brands. Don’t rashly rush to invention, to plug your weaknesses, to spray and pay in a desperate hunt for incremental sales, but look at yourselves, look at what you’ve got, and find ways to do more with what already makes you good.  

Which is why we believe it’s time to do more with less; it’s time… 

To be more Martian!

Whether you’ve read Andy Weir’s book or seen the film adaptation of The Martian, Mark Whatney is a character we could all do with emulating.  

Stuck on Mars alone he has one brutally simple challenge: how not to die on Mars.

How does he survive? By excelling at overcoming functional fixedness, the enemy of invention, an idea first expressed in the 1930s by psychologist Karl Duncker.  

He identified that people tend to naturally fixate on the common use of an object, and therefore overlook alternative functions and modes.  

Functional fixedness can keep you closed off to new possibilities.

Overcoming it through alternative, divergent thinking can open you up to new.

Take Apollo 13; the astronauts were in danger of being poisoned because of a problem with the filters. The astronauts reframed, and reapplied items they had available; spare plastic bags, tape and air hoses to conjure makeshift air filters. Astronauts’ lives saved, Apollo returned safely.  

Back to our astronaut Mark Whatney. He is forced into embracing divergent thinking and overcoming functional fixedness. Emotion and need drive his compulsion to find a solve to his opening thoughts. "I'm pretty much f*cked. That's my considered opinion. F*cked."

He launches into a never-ending saga of near-death moments and inventive brilliance to stay alive.  

In the general ‘f*ckedness’ (ref Mark Whatney) of the times, we need to make sure brands aren’t being invisibly negligent and complacent, but are instead looking boldly into their ‘How not to die on Mars’ moment, or how not to die on the moribund planet of recession to emerge intact and thriving on the other side.  

Which is why we’re encouraging our agency and client teams to embrace a more Martian attitude, and work hard to overcome their own functional fixedness. There’s a natural tendency for brands and marketeers to see things as they’ve always been, do things as have always been done. But now is the time for divergent thinking and to find smart ways to do more with less.

Divergent thinking (def: to break free from established approaches, to follow many different lines of thought from a specific start point to find new solutions to a problem) is more likely to get us to different solutions that break from existing brand patterns and behaviours, and liberate ‘more with less’ ideas.

Take your category and think about what the core hunting grounds are where you could apply divergent thinking and come up with non-innovation led, innovative ideas. For some of our brands, for example, we’ve looked at the following:

Divergent usage: how might we inspire, educate and entertain people with new ways to use existing products/ services. 

Divergent partnerships: how might we collaborate in unexpected ways to expand our appeal through mutually beneficial pairings.

Divergent experiences: how might we delight people with new ways to engage in our brands and products.

Divergent for good: how might we create ways to prove how buying us does good in the world.

Take Oreo’s Twists campaign, showcasing a smorgasbord of bizarre eating rituals, including the familiar sandwich biscuit slathered in mustard, or dunked in orange juice; this breathes new excitement into product usage by surfacing polarising new ways to enjoy Oreo’s. Love it or hate it, it makes you put Oreo’s back on your list at a time people are looking for small moments of delight to break the gloom of the days.

In the run up to Christmas, M&S announced you can rent an outfit, or fashion capsule from just £10. No new products, just a new way of giving people access to affordable fashion at a time when people can’t afford new wardrobes, as well as hitting the mark on recyclable fashion.

Or Backmarket reframing refurbished phones not as second hand and intrinsically less aspirational, but as the smarter more ecological and economical choice for people actively at point of purchasing a brand new iPhone.

And yes, at the end of the day, these are all just brilliant campaign ideas selling brands and products in a different way, but it’s the explorative, open-mindedness that led to being able to do more with less, rather than chasing product innovation, or traditional big budget campaigns.

So as you’re helping brands win through recession make sure you keep key lessons from The Martian top of mind and drive through the right mindset to overcome organisational functional fixedness:

Fear of death! There’s nothing like it to drive urgency and lateral thinking.

Multi-perspective. Look at the problem and possible solutions, upside down and inside out, Not just face on.

Simplicity. If it’s not brilliantly simply, and easy to do, it’s unlikely to fly.

Experiment. Give things a whirl and see where you end up and what sticks.

Take leaps. It might not feel comfortable, or logical, but to think differently you need to leap together.

Go be more Martian!

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