Niki Macartney of Southpaw: the world’s given up on advertising – why not try oddvertising?

How reassuring to see the Cannes juries last week recognize and reward the antithesis to the vacuity of perfume advertising. Kenzo’s playful ‘Mutant Brain’ campaign picked up ten Lions across a number of categories, having successfully stuck two fingers up to its peers.

Perhaps this could be the beginning of a new shtick for advertising – one that could be seriously welcome. After all surely it’s time for ‘authenticity’ (one of those cursed words) and ‘brand activism’ to take a bit of a break. They’ve got overly serious and earnest, repeatedly going where they have no right to venture (McDonald’s bereavement ad for example) and frankly we all need some respite from brands claiming that they care when many do not.

OK, so it’s not all bad, and for the record, I am a massive advocate of brands having a strong moral conscience and actively making a difference in the world. But, let’s take heed from the genius of the extraordinary, Willy Wonka, who brilliantly proclaimed: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men.”

Let’s take this gift from Wonka and enjoy the weird, wacky, and downright odd, in marketing, as an antidote to the plethora of achingly cerebral brand-activist content.

It’s time to celebrate some of the best ‘oddvertising’ around us, the campaigns where brands are taking themselves less seriously, invoking humour and irony, and playing this out through new product development, brand communications, and events.

This is not a new marketing approach, but it’s certainly in the ascendency, whether through parody, odd products, hyperbole, or irony. It’s almost certainly a response to our current political and social climate, a momentary escape into a funnier place.

Some of the most prominent recent examples include Cornetto’s ‘Commitment Rings’, which uses NFC to stop you watching Netflix unless your partner is also able to watch; Gucci’s absurd and nonsensical #TFWGucci campaign; and the Palace x Reebok collaboration featuring Jonah Hill.

These examples show that oddvertising is not just an antidote for the sake of it, the science behind laughter and playfulness in marketing is hugely compelling for brands and, potentially, a more accessible way to drive emotion and effectiveness.

Laughter is our lifeblood. It is so common that we forget how important it is. Even primates enjoy the odd chuckle. Laughter unites us. Laughter is viral, it’s a social thing. If you’re going to have an impact socially then consider doing it through laughter. After all, laughter even has the power to make us feel better (it’s the best medicine).

It also has incredible power over your emotions. If a brand makes you laugh, you feel good and you’ll remember that. Also, 90 per cent of purchase decisions are subconscious and based on emotion, not rational consideration. If a brand is playful and funny, our critical brain is often disarmed and we feel warm and fuzzy, instead of judgmental and negative. Research shows this is what drives higher sales, better profits, especially over the long term.

There are three clear benefits of oddvertising for brands. First, it’s refreshing, creative and fun. The more outlandish and absurd the ideas become, the better and more satisfying for the audience, and the better and more satisfying for the agency and client teams working on them. The art of creativity is significantly limited by seriousness and it’s playfulness that’s the well-documented bedfellow to genius ideas.

Second, it differentiates. At the heart of oddvertising is creating humour through originality and surprise. It’s a way to differentiate in a marketing world where everyone seems to be jumping on the brand activism bandwagon.

Finally, it leads to more effective marketing. If you want people to do something you’ve got to make them feel something, and laughter and surprise not only make brand activities more memorable they also create emotional associations that we recall time and time again and are proven to reward the bottom line increasingly over time.

So not only does oddvertising provide a delightful vacation from the suffocating heat of the brand activism world, it’s also a very smart brand strategy that pays off. A word of caution, however, to avoid falling into the trap of Augustus Gloop (the great big greedy nincompoop), and mindlessly overdoing it on the oddvertising front. Just ‘doing’ oddvertising doesn’t mean it’s going to work. The best ideas are carefully and beautifully crafted, with a strong strategy behind them. They’re purposefully nonsensical.

But a word of caution: If you’re going to try oddvertising, just remember that WTF should not be a desired response to your campaign.

Niki Macartney is strategy director of Southpaw.

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