While advertising started out as straightforward messaging, as consumer habits have evolved, it has undergone an executional transformation. Now, instead of taking for granted that a viewer is going to be complacently subjected to advertising, we need to take a more strategic approach to create messages that don't just inform, but entertain.
One way to do that is by creating "disruptive entertainment" that the viewer seeks out, instead of a disruptive message that interrupts their favorite TV show. Good work has become more and more apparent over the last few years: the latest example is the Old Spice work coming out of W+K Portland. The evolution of this campaign as a piece of work has really changed the way I look at communication. It perfectly demonstrates that dramatizing the "unexpected" has a better effect than constant repetition, no matter how inspired. It's a new way of scripting a story that is disruptive in nature, and the more unique the story, the better the reaction. It's still grounded on a firm strategy, but the creators of the campaign evolved executions on the fly to take advantage of how people were consuming it.
Maybe it's the fact that this type of communication is the only thing that works on the younger generations of kids. They seek out entertainment and the way all of us have consumed media has completely changed since the Internet was born and took over our daily lives. A whole generation of short-attention span individuals are constantly looking for new experiences. It's part of their nature. They don't want to be served anything bland, and they're not going to listen to a message because someone else wants them to. And why should they pay attention to what a brand wants to say, unless it offers something in return? What they are looking for is entertainment. And for a campaign to entertain, it needs to be nimble enough to react in real time.
The problem with "disruptive entertainment" is that it still needs to be grounded in strategy, like the Old Spice work. Looking back at other campaigns of the same nature, such as Cadburys, Skittles and Altoids, the bar is set high. This doesn't mean a campaign should be weird for weirdness' sake. Today's consumer is too smart for that. There still needs to be a message, but it has become almost impossible to recreate the same quality of experience time after time. The expectations are high from our clients, and even higher from our audience.
So, my question is this. If advertising shifts towards "disruptive entertainment," how do we create campaigns that have durability and that can still serve up surprises time after time without losing the underlying message? A quick jingle or product placement isn't enough to hold the creative tissue together. That's why I wasn't surprised to see Old Spice take a new approach with the Ray Lewis spots. Making the same joke again and again wasn't going to keep working. The campaign itself needed to be disrupted, and due to the success of the previous executions, this change in direction garnered even more attention for the product.
My solve on this problem would be to identify a big enough concept platform that has the room and flexibility for us to keep pushing the creative envelope over and over again, but still have the ability to connect to the underlining manifesto. One example I feel that has done a great job of keeping alive a great creative platform is "Have it your way" by Burger King, which often demonstrates the ability to work disruptively with an advertising campaign, and still does a fantastic job of paying off the product benefit with an entertaining twist. One more example is Nike's "Just do it" platform that has done a great job of serving up thousands of ad campaigns over the last 22 years.
My ask is for marketers to be able to leave a big enough amount of creative freedom to their agencies. It's time we accept the fact that we've got to become disruptive entertainers if our industry is going to thrive.
Paul Collins is a group creative director at AKQA New York.
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