Everyone hates advertising, until they lose their Dog

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Then they want to figure out the best way of stopping people in their tracks, taking notice, and finding Fido.

The same is happening with brands with a focus, or increased interest in digital. Every brief asks creatives to think 'disruption'...

‘Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters from Around the World’ by Ian Phillips (courtesy Princeton Architectural Press, 2015)

Talk to any digitally orientated start up and you’ll hear the same phrases time and again. Agile (we’ve got barely any staff or process) — scale (we are tiny but want to be massive) — and the now classic ‘disruptive’ (we want to invent something so good everyone will drop what they are doing and come to us).

‘Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters from Around the World’ by Ian Phillips (courtesy Princeton Architectural Press, 2015)

Now all of these values are entirely understandable. They’ve probably grown frustrated with lengthy sign off processes at big companies. So agile feels vital.

They want the power and influence and riches that come with scale.

...and they admire the surface of the biggies that have made it. The Googles. The Apples. The Ubers. The Airbnbs.

All admirable and useful in the design of a company. But what about the way the brand is depicted and experienced? Agility. Great. Everyone expects an instant response from their digitally-focused brands. Scale? Sure. Even smaller services like Citymapper or Shazam feel connected at scales that are useful without being exhaustive. Disruptive? Erm. No. Do not disrupt my day. Complement it. Aid it. Help. But with my permission.

Do not disrupt my day. Complement it. Aid it. Help. But with my permission.

Even the previous fans of ‘disruptive thinking’ — the advertisers — have moved on from jumping out at you to inviting you into a conversation. Or, more succinctly to ‘an engagement model’.

And there’s the rub. Meeting with founders or enthusiastic members of a digitally-focussed business. They brief in the branding to be agile. Scaleable. And (yep, you’ve guessed it) Disruptive. But rarely embrace the quality that makes digital work so powerful. The chat.

This Disruptively powered Brief is leading many design companies astray. Creating work that’s barely viable and certainly unlikely to contribute to a lasting, useful and valuable way of representing the product, organisation or service to the (eventually) paying public.

Some disruptive design thinking leads branding to make desperately basic errors. The rebrand of Addison Lee, the once darling of London private taxi hire, has embraced a colour that’s certainly disruptive. An acid level fluorescent yellow that is so ‘bright’ it renders words entirely unreadable in print. Disruptive, yep. Bright? No. It’s stupid. And will need to be amended right after they finish running an expensive outdoor poster campaign that has failed due to a basic error.

‘Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters from Around the World’ by Ian Phillips (courtesy Princeton Architectural Press, 2015)

Some brands going all out to disrupt, are confronted with the fact that the more you try to be different, the more things equalise to stay the same.

Witness the surge in craft brewery brands. Gone are the fermenting old arcs or typography and carvings of weasels. Storming into place are brutal illustrations of skulls with roses in their eye sockets. Mad clashy colour systems and lettering to make typographers blush — and names to confuse the masses... I love them. Beavertown was surely the nuttiest and one of the 1st big mainstream breakthroughs...

Disruptive — Defo

While the initial rush of gamma rays, neck oils and sour brews raised more than one eyebrow and even more elbows, it’s now the norm. 

Many a barman heard ‘erm, so what is this beer?’ As another customer was met with an unintelligible labelled can.

In the rush to disrupt, the brewers were initially confused. And in the rush to mimetic isomorphism, everyone now looks the same.

Meanwhile — unaffected by the fashion of the moment — The Meantime Brewery took home the big £ prize when they were acquired by SAAB Millar. A pay day the other brewers continue to dream about but are likley to miss realising.

How did they do it? They took a genuine and simple idea  (of being London’s brewer)  and stuck to it, gaining significant distribution and becoming London’s new beer of choice. On tap. On demand. On brand. (And launched by SomeOne).

The truth is that brands, like people, follow themes. Move too far from a central theme and you alienate and confuse the audience. There’s a lot to be said for being placed firmly in the middle of a strategists matrix.

The centre of the diagram is often the most powerful place to be — and certainly the most balanced. It just doesn’t raise the headlines that outlier brands do. Radical thinking still has a terrific role to play in mass market branding. Because the masses crave entertainment. But what they resist is seismic shifts, and that’s what a 'disruptive brief' asks for.

Great brands are a balance of each, not a huge slice of one.

Apple released its most significant update to its iphone operating system in years and one of the most notable inclusions was the shift from pure function to play. SMS’s are now the communication channel of choice, beating the multi nuanced phone call to the post as the most convenient way to connect with people – and notably ,  be the best place to tell a lie. It’s far easier to type ‘I’m nearly there’ than speak calmly as you rush, late, out of the office. 

But the minimalists at Apple have chosen to include highly sophisticated animations of confetti, balloons and even fireworks and laser shows. Why? Because they’ve seen how snapchatters have flocked to channels that offer a more entertaining way to get people together. 

Play, not purity, won the day.

Brands exist to create monopolies within their audiences. They are competitive by nature. And the words circling digital start ups and those traditional brands with a newly invigorated digital focus feel competitive and ready for combat.

Scale. Agility. Disruption. They are fighters words. They describe Muhammad Ali to most.

But it’s not disruption that brand briefs need to embody for a win within the (Venn diagram) rings of the masses. It’s the collective power of nuanced and entertaining branding that can cheer, enhance and amplify an audiences emotions.


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