Why brands should ignore marketing gospel and dare to be different

The Audi UK marketing director explains that brands need to be brave, ditch convention, experiment and dare to be different.

Many moons ago, a group of scientists conducted a social experiment. A woman was observed as she took her seat in an optician’s waiting room. Unbeknown to her, the room was otherwise full of actors as opposed to fellow patients – and what happened next gives a startling insight into human behaviour. 

As everyone waited quietly for their appointment, a beep sounded. All of the actors stood up, then sat back down again. The beep went once more. All the actor-patients did exactly the same thing. And then the beep sounded for a third time – whereupon the woman stood up and sat down along with everyone else, despite having no idea why she was doing it.

So far, so obvious. But the real eye-opener was still to come. One by one, the actors were called for their "appointments". Eventually, the woman was left alone in the room, yet she continued to stand each time she heard the beep. Then, when new, similarly unsuspecting patients entered the room, she got them standing for every beep, too.

So the room was now full of people socially conditioned to stand to attention at every beep – even though it was patently ridiculous and none of them had received any instruction or explanation. There is no rational reason for this behaviour, other than: "It’s just how we do things around here." This sounds absurd but it is an easy trap to fall into. 

Let me give you an example from the similarly surreal world of social media. We have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated in the ways of creating content. Social preachers deliver the gospel: it needs to be vertical; it must be short and sweet; and it has to work with no sound. And so, everything in our social feeds looks the same. Generic. Vanilla. And as bland as the food in my grandmother’s pantry. Certain methods and formats have become the undisputed norm, simply because somebody once succeeded with them. It’s just how we do things around here.

There will always be many, many more plagiarisers than pioneers. But our job is to discover new ways, new methods and new formats to succeed. Our most successful social-media campaign at Audi was shot in landscape, needed sound and ran for a whopping two minutes: we asked some kids to describe cars of the future, and their answers were entertaining, engaging, very popular with viewers and commercially successful. So let’s not accept normal conventions. Let’s evolve, explore and experiment. Let’s dare to be different.

And as a community of progressive thinkers, we should celebrate such advancements properly. It’s weird, isn’t it, that we have separate awards for creativity and effectiveness? I attend plenty of hedonistic awards shows, where I admire many wonderful ideas and concepts by the world’s hottest creative talent… and yet I go away wondering whether they ever achieved the client’s business aim. If they didn’t, the ceremony is effectively no more than an art show, admittedly with excellent alcohol options. 

But as a business leader, I worry we are missing a trick. In the age of econometrics, when we can measure pound for pound the material success of a campaign, using a wealth of different criteria, shouldn’t there be a third way? An awards show that ties creativity and effectiveness together? You wouldn’t be able to get in the door, never mind earn a citation, if you didn’t have a strong creative and commercial case. It would be the Champions League of marketing awards.

Perhaps clients and agencies could mint a prize themselves? The money raised from the entries could even go to the teams that did best. Then we’d all know what really worked – and share in the spoils. And we’d have a chance to give our most successful creative geniuses the ovations they deserve. That’s a real reason to be upstanding.

Benjamin Braun is the marketing director of Audi UK. 

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