If you’re fitting in, you’re failing

dane smith April 2018 (1)By Dane Smith, behavioural and brand strategist, Ogilvy Sydney.

Mental availability is a word on many marketer’s lips. Will the customer really think about my brand when it comes time to purchase? A hard truth to swallow: they probably won’t.

Simply put, there are a lot of brands to choose from, that appear in a lot of communications, and pop up in a lot of different places, all vying for a precious little sliver of mental real estate.

So…what are we marketers to do? Knowing that emotions are a shortcut to memory centres, it might be tempting to beeline straight for the heartstrings. To use nuanced storytelling, building up comfort, familiarity and a deeper sense of connection.

Not a bad approach. If you can meaningfully achieve these things without sacrificing on brand awareness or coming off as contrived.

The truth is: a strong emotional connection takes time to build. And often, it relies on someone experiencing your brand firsthand, and building up positive associations for themselves, not just seeing it in an advertisement.

Which leads me to my next point…

The boneyard of brave ideas

In the deepest recesses of any creative team’s bottom drawer, lies a scattering of dead ideas. To be fair, some of these ideas ended up dead for good reason – they were off-brief, boring, confusing or maybe just plain unethical.

Some of them however, were probably laid to rest for being a bit too unusual. A custom airbrushed beer bottle. A chicken-flavoured bar of soap. A scratch-n-sniff billboard. At the time, they just felt…wrong.

Too often, creative practitioners stumble upon beautifully novel ways to tackle a business problem, only to see these hit the cutting room floor – or get pared right back – for that very same reason: they’re novel. As stakeholders in big brands with big legacies, novelty makes us all squirm a little. It simply feels too dangerous.

Cola (1)It feels that way for a couple of reasons. First, because of a deeply ingrained status quo biasan actual psychological effect that makes new or deviant thinking seem scary. It’s perfectly natural.

It also however, comes down to a more flexible cultural belief that quirky or unorthodox is somehow a waste of time. A gimmick without an ROI. Though in reality, you’re more likely to hear these arguments summed as: “That is just so…random”.

But here’s the thing…

Novelty really matters

Our brains are wonderfully complex things. They’re also pretty old. Shaped over many, many millennia, they’ve adapted to help us survive (and mate) better.

One such adaptation: with attentional resources being so limited, our brains started doing something pretty clever. They began habituating to things that were routine and expected, knowing from experience that danger levels were low. However, when something novel entered the frame, they knew to reflexively switch on, sit up and pay attention.

A loud bang. A flash of unexpected colour. A chicken-flavoured bar of soap.

the-versatile-gent-asahi-extra-cold-super-dry-summer-6 (1)These things matter to our brains because they’re novel. They instantly stand out and get an unfair slice of the attention cake. And that cake is everything when your customer is making the decision to buy or not to buy.

Suddenly, random makes sense. And that bottom drawer holds more potential.

The right way to be random

To be clear, I am not saying “burn all visual guidelines” or “strap an LED on it” – brand coherency and relevance still play a big role. They help establish trust in the consumer.

But, before scoffing at a tactic that is tough to rationalise, consider how it might be used to inject novelty in the right place. That novelty might be the ingredient your brand desperately needs to stand out on the retail battleground. Coke’s technicoloured cans, Bonds’ personified testes, Asahi’s subzero tap thermometer. These sorts of ideas deserve our respect. And more importantly, our encouragement.

To quote an oldie but a goodie: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Put differently: bring on the quirk.

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