The serious business of entertainment.

By Adam Reynolds on May 12, 2021

thought leadership piece

How brands can win the popularity contest.

It’s generally thought that brands should do the right thing and act like
good, upstanding citizens. Quite right. But one side effect of this is the
kind of overly-serious, at times sanctimonious advertising (busting out the
big words earlier here) that’s become the norm.

Let’s get real for a second. After the year we’ve all had, the last thing
we need is lectures in morality from laundry detergents or phoney activism
from sausage manufacturers that’s more dubious than their meat content.

What we need is an antidote to this holier-than-thou show. What we need is
a little more show business. What we need is entertaining.

Take two popular stories across social recently. Aldi running rings round
M&S in the Colin Vs Cuthbert wars, and the mother-of-god drama Line of
Duty. Why are they so popular? Why have they got everyone talking? Because
they’re entertaining. Funny how you don’t see the comments filling up with
sausage activism. It’s like no one’s actually bothered.

The work we create interrupts people’s day. The least we should do is
entertain them. Not bore them with tedious sermons about saving the world
with the healing power of toilet paper or plug in air fresheners. As though
pumping a chemical interpretation of summer meadow through your house can
cure global hunger.

Is it any wonder we skip ads when that’s what we’re faced with? As Martin
Boase (one of the founders of BMP, later DDB London) said, “If you’re going
to invite yourself into somebody’s living room, you have a moral duty not
to insult their intelligence or shout at them. But if you put a smile on
their face, then they might like you and be more inclined to buy your

A great example of that is the new Wrigley’s Extra ad, For When It’s Time.
A properly over-the-top film about the possibilities of coming out of
lockdown. It’s made to make you smile. There’s not a whiff of serious,
sanctimony or two-bob purpose about it – and it’s all the better for it.

If it’s true that our industry reflects the zeitgeist, then look around.
We’re competing for attention and eyeballs with things like TikTok. A
platform made to entertain. Why should anyone pay attention to what
overly-serious air fresheners are saying when they can fall down the rabbit
hole of Zach King’s illusions? Or get lost in film franchises like Marvel
and TV shows like Stranger Things? They’re all brands that people buy into.
Brands that entertain. Brands that are popular. Maybe we could learn
something from them?

Without wanting to get all ‘it’s not as good as it used to be’, we’ve
become stalkers, not seducers. Sure, we know how to reach people, but far
less about what reaches them. Made you look is a million miles from made
you care. But entertainment that moves people to emotion – from the laughs
of Colin Vs Cuthbert to the rollercoaster of Line of Duty – is a powerful
source of effectiveness. Because the fact is, entertaining equals popular.
And if what we do isn’t a popularity contest, what is it?

As much as life has changed in the last year, one constant remains: people
aren’t easily swayed. To make matters worse, the rich platter of
entertainment at our fingertips makes the battle for attention and trust
ever more difficult. It’s a battle brands will keep losing if we continue
down the path of pretending we’re saving the world. We’re not. Our role is
to make brands famous and popular. So, let’s stop being so sanctimonious.
The only thing we should be serious about is winning the popularity