Making it happen since 1988

A little understanding.

By Adam Reynolds on May 19, 2017

There’s brave and there’s stupid. From Pepsi hijacking political protest to McDonald’s exploiting childhood bereavement – for some reason, John Lewis escaped the same criticism for banishing an old man to the moon – if you’re going to piggyback a sensitive social theme, you need to judge the tone perfectly. So what’s going on?

First, the science. Ads work best on an emotional level because when it comes to creating a response, emotions beat facts hands down. The reason for this is simple. The bit of our brain that deals with instinctive, emotional reactions like joy, fear, love and hate has more power than the rational, think-it-through part. It’s what stopped our ancestors getting eaten by things with big teeth. And it’s still why we make the decisions we do.

But ads like Pepsi’s don’t come from an instinctive understanding of what’s going on in the world. Let alone something silly like why people might actually want to buy the product – imagine that. They come from twonks. With charts.

From current trends to audience profiles, they’ve got a PowerPoint for it. Backed up by a spreadsheet. Supported by graphs that represent soon to be broken dreams of increased market share. And that’s where the problems start.

Advertising should be influenced by and influence culture. Twonks with charts could never have come up with Tango’s orange man, JR Hartley or, as much as it galls me, Budweiser’s wassup. Ads made of gut feeling, irreverence, instinct and genuine understanding. Ads that stood out for the right reasons. Ads with a connection to the real world and the lives of people who might pick the product up off the shelf.

When ads need to work harder than ever to deliver results, cock-ups like Pepsi and McDonald’s are in danger of making brands more risk averse. More likely to retreat into charts and graphs. Stuff you can prove until it gets realised into the wild and the general public tell you otherwise.

If you’re taking on a culturally sensitive subject, you need people with instinct, perspective and understanding to get the tone spot on. Things that don’t come from charts. Unlike PR disasters.