I’ve been playing catch up on one of my favourite shows recently – Masterchef Australia. The streaming platform I’m using is ad supported, so I’ve seen a lot of advertising.

On the whole, I’ve been disappointed. I’ve found most ads confusing, boring and annoying. There have been two delightful exceptions to this, however. 

The first is Yorkshire Tea. Their ‘Where Everything’s Done Proper’ platform has led to a series of ads featuring Yorkshire-born celebrities like Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean and The Kaiser Chiefs among others. The ads are funny, memorable and perfectly align with the product. Full disclosure; my husband’s family is from Yorkshire and this is the only tea in the house, so I may be biassed.

The second is Expedia. Their ‘Sonia and Bill’ advert is just lovely and ticks so many boxes – the adorable dog, an unfolding scene, a brilliant soundtrack, an emotional hook and the payoff at the end. 

This experience got me thinking about what makes some ads work while others fall flat. 

B2B or B2C, the challenge is the same

There’s no denying that it’s getting harder to reach our customersThey are juggling increasingly complex lives with heightened emotional situations and navigating ever more clutter as channels and content proliferate. And as browsers phase out third-party cookies and customers turn on privacy settings, it’s harder to reach them with relevant content. 

But marketers are being asked to deliver ambitious targets for the business, often with less money, fewer resources and tighter deadlines. 

The first challenge in this environment is to stand out. To capture attention. To be noticed. It’s only then that we can turn our attention to educating people about our products and services. To inspire them to take action. 

Levi’s ‘When the world zigs, zag’ advert, 1982

The 95-5 rule

Capturing attention and being noticed is important because research from Professor John Dawes of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and the LinkedIn B2B Institute found that up to 95% of customers aren’t in the market to buy at any given moment. 

There will be nuances by category, but for both B2B and B2C companies, the truth is that the majority of your customers will not be actively buying what you’re selling right now. However, we can’t afford to ignore this group. If we want to be considered when it comes time to buy, we need to stay on their radar through the weeks, months or even years between purchases. 

This means we need to do two things: 

  1. Create attention-grabbing advertising that is memorable and sticky
  2. Balance our media spend so that we’re getting in front of them at regular intervals to refresh their memories of us 

The brand that gets remembered is the brand that gets bought.

The power of creativity in advertising

I love this quote from Stephan Vogel, the Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather EMEA: 

“Nothing is more efficient than creative advertising. Creative advertising is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.”

Overall, creative advertising is just more effective at getting results. Research published by the IPA shows that creative ad campaigns are 11 times more efficient at driving market share growth. And a study published in HBR found that every €1 invested in creative campaigns had double the sales impact of €1 invested in a non-creative campaign.

Creativity is the biggest driver of profitability within a marketer’s direct control. Paul Dyson’s research across the years has reinforced this point time and again. 

I believe there are five creative elements that can unlock effectiveness in our marketing and advertising efforts. 

Stand out to capture attention

As mentioned, the first thing we need to do is be noticed. To stand out in a sea of sameness. The Levi’s ad above summarises it perfectly: “When the world zigs, zag.” 

Identify what the category norms are, then go against the grain. Ideally this will be something intrinsic in your company and product. Liquid Death, a water brand, looked at the norms of the water category and actively disrupted the status quo with its name, packaging, branding and its advertising. 

Another way to stand out is to invest in distinctive assets for your brand – often visual or audio elements that are wholly associated with your company. Think of characters, slogans, shapes or patterns, jingles, etc. If you think about the environment in which your marketing and advertising is going to live, you can design them to help you stand out. 

Be relevant to your audience

Once we’ve captured people’s attention, we need our messaging to resonate with them. This will only happen if we truly understand who they are, what problem they’re trying to solve and how our products help them. 

We like to do research across the company, customer and category to uncover this information and shape our campaign messaging. 

You can keep your marketing and advertising customer-centric by thinking about what Jenni Romaniuk terms “Category Entry Points”. These are internal or external buying cues that people use to access brand memories in a buying situation. 

For example, if I have a summer holiday coming up (the cue), I have a couple of retail brands I’d turn to for a new outfit or two. If I want to swap out my car for an electric model to cut back on fossil fuel (the cue), I am only going to consider one or two brands to replace it. And if my company is growing to the point where we need a CRM to manage our customer data (the cue), I will look for providers that meet my specific needs. 

I love how Intuit Mailchimp spoke directly to a customer need, gave an abstract problem a name and showed how to solve it in an eye-catching way. 

Practise disruptive consistency

This concept comes from Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA in Brand Management which I took last year and it was my favourite concept he discussed. Across the seven to eight truly great brands he’s worked with, this is what he pointed out as the common feature. 

“Brands are seeking two simultaneous motions”, he said. “The brand strategy and positioning serves as the compass we orient ourselves around every time we need to take an action. It’s the code by which we operate; it’s our DNA – it’s where we deliver on consistency.”

But then we look for the opportunities where being true to your brand will break a category convention or an assumed belief. It will position you against your competitive set and plant you firmly in the non-competitive white space. 

An example of this is with the luxury watch brand Hublot. They make a point of operating against the status quo; their first watch paired a gold watch with a rubber wrist strap. Not the done thing in luxury watches at the time. They have continued to operate against the norms with their advertising. 

Hublot campaigns, 2010 – 2024

Most luxury watch advertisements use celebrities that are highly polished, reputationally safe and portrayed in a stylish way. 

Hublot chose Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona who has had his fair share of controversy. And instead of portraying their F1 King Power watch in the usual stylish way, they ran this ad with Bernie Ecclestone who had been mugged and his Hublot watch stolen. Bernie sent the Hublot CEO the picture from the police report with the inscription “See what people will do for a Hublot” on the back. That became their Christmas ad. 

It’s a brand that is consistently true to its DNA and also consistently disruptive to the category norms. While you don’t have to be as aggressive, find ways to challenge the traditional way of doing things in your category in a way that is true to who you are as a brand. 

Tell stories 

Our brains are hardwired to engage with stories, especially those with characters involved. They release dopamine and oxytocin, chemicals that help us remember things better and motivate us to act. 

Orlando Wood’s brilliant book ‘Look Out’ identified a number of factors that can make our ads more attention-grabbing, memorable and emotionally resonant: 

  • Characters with vitality and agency
  • Dialogue (ensure captions for digital video)
  • Implicit and unspoken communication
  • Wordplay or subverting language
  • A clear sense of place
  • One unfolding scene 
  • References to other cultural works
  • Distinctive accents (please brand early and often!) 
  • Music with discernible melody
  • Set in the past

That’s important for the brand stories we tell, but another important way to apply this is in telling the stories of your audience. 

Yeti is an American company that makes coolers, cool bags and drinkware designed for people in extreme outdoor environments. They have spent years with outdoor communities (skiers, surfers, hunters, etc) to design a product that meets their needs. And their advertising reflects that. 

Use humour…appropriately

Paul Feldwick’s brilliant book ‘Why Does the Pedlar Sing’ makes the case that advertising has often steered clear of entertainment and showmanship in an effort to be taken seriously in business. And we’ve certainly seen a shift toward purpose-driven campaigns that tackle larger societal issues, but are light on humour. 

But the truth is, advertising is more effective and memorable when it’s entertaining, funny and likeable. Humour can humanise our brands and build affinity in our audiences. 

But humour can be thought of as a spectrum, and we need to match the right type of humour with what’s suitable for our brands. Kantar identified these types of humour brands can play with: 

  • The childish prank
  • Shock value
  • The put-down
  • Clever wit
  • An innocent smile
  • The everyday laugh

A brilliant recent example is Workday, whose Super Bowl commercial featured legendary rock stars who are frustrated with the casual use of the term ‘rock star’ in the workplace. 

Not only can humour work for your customers, showing the personality of the brand can also be great for employer branding and attracting the right talent. 

I truly believe creativity is the amplifying effect of everything we do. And if you have smaller advertising budgets, it’s essential to prioritise creative advertising to supercharge the budget you have. 

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