Don’t use a cannon to shoot a mosquito

Recently I travelled to Las Vegas to attend the global Razorfish client conference, Converge. And if there was one key out take from this session that lay the foundation for every other thought, it was this: brands are what they do, not what they say. 

Sure, it seems very pragmatic, bordering on obvious. But once you strip it back, isn’t every great strategy? If a brand is still focused on talking at people, they’re going to stop listening. However, if they focus on actually demonstrating what they represent, suddenly we enter a space where the consumer can truly understand what they are all about. They can relate.

If we consider this on a deeper level, what human was ever perfect?

Casey Neistat, who I met on the trip (and on first impressions is one of the people you’d traditionally want to keep your brand as far away from as possible), stated simply that “perfection erases humanity”.  And this, I believe, is a key point that brands need to consider when it comes to their communications strategy and how they’re actually going to position themselves so they will resonate with their consumers.

In this real-time digital age, it’s sometimes the smaller, timely executions that get the cut through. Sure, this may mean the output is slightly unpolished and could feel almost rough, but ironically this is why it’s proving to be successful, particularly with the youth segment. The thing is, they don’t feel like ads. And this is where truly great advertising takes on a new life; it becomes content.

Basically, if you’re spending all your time training your army to create the greatest mozzie-bombing cannon with all the bells and whistles that the world has ever seen, chances are by the time you’re ready to aim, the sucker has already flown away.

Not surprisingly, Nike is a brand whose recent campaign used this exact strategy. Below is the final product, video edits, effects and all.

Rather than pour money and resource into creating a perfected piece of footage, it has still managed to communicate its “make it count” idea through a truly authentic, real, empathetic video. I mean, this thing has pretty much been shot on a Go-Pro and the guy’s not even wearing Nike sneakers. Yet it’s still incredibly spot-on brand and manages to evoke an emotional response when you watch it.

Of course, highly polished, beautiful, big ideas will always have a fundamental role in advertising. I’m not for a moment arguing that. It’s just that with the state of play having changed there is a new level we need to master. In doing so, we’re able to cut through with a strategy that helps talk with our audiences in a more authentic, real way.

The fact is, consumers are savvy and can spot an advertisement a mile away. The most successful brands in coming years will be those that not only recognise this but embrace it. At the heart of every brilliant campaign is a human truth, but this shouldn’t just be a great advertising sound bite. It’s time we really start to get human. 

  • Richard Thompson is channel director and partner at Contagion. This piece originally appeared on the Contagion blog

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