Kate Smither reflects on a series of posters popping up around Sydney.
Beneath a picture of a penguin with a huskie head superimposed, the copy reads ‘Trevor is a descendant of the penguin/husky hybrid bred by members of Ernest Shackleton’s doomed 1914 Antarctic expedition after supplies ran out. Trevor was last seen jumping off Kurraba point in pursuit of a tennis ball…’
A story of drama, comedy, intrigue, silliness, fantasy, and history simultaneously. In one short paragraph about a Huskiguin named Trevor, the creator of this simple print out plastered to the wharf had collapsed more genres than Bridgerton and, like any good communication should, it had piqued my curiosity at the same time.
You see, Trevor is one in a series of creations: there is Belunda the NZ Sheep, Adani the Indian Minor and most recently Cracker an Albino Moose sent to Sydney mistakenly instead of a white mouse. Each story is a perfectly crafted piece of creativity and they are clearly entertaining someone as much as me because new ones keep popping up.
I’m the crazy person who not just photographs these posters but chuckles to herself as she does. And because I am a strategist I can’t help but dissect them and wonder why they started appearing last year, why they still do and what they’re for.
In “An Optimist’s View for 2021”, Simon Sinek says that 2021 is a year to “feel all the feels” and something that can trigger curiosity, happiness, and cynicism all at the same time just by stopping you for a minute certainly does that. It also reminds me of what advertising at its most simple can do, provoke thoughts, promote reaction and even give you a moment of joy and surprise.
But I think when Sinek talks about “feeling all the feels” he is really talking about how we need to allow ourselves to feel conflicting emotions all at the same time. How 2020 has taught us that beauty, despair, hope and horror all co-exist and that feeling them all in the same moment is not uncommon and shouldn’t be avoided or edited out.
The challenge is that advertising and marketing doesn’t “feel all the feels” because it hasn’t been brought up to. We have whole processes aimed at narrowing the focus of emotions to one not the other…usually to the positive not the negative. But the most interesting ideas, the ones that motivate behaviours come from the edges of feelings not a carefully edited and dictated response.
I was training a marketing team a week or so ago and was asked a question that got me thinking, “Will cancel culture make brands scared?” behind this question was a fear hat brands might iron out every crease in their communications, become even more risk averse and that we were entering an era of vanilla advertising where brands are scared of themselves. Behind the question was a sense of nervousness for the industry.
I think my answer was “I hope not” because if advertising and advertisers start to act too nervously, if they start to over analyse they start to paralyse.
Instead, I think we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum, where brands are confronting their irregularities and quirks, their creases and crinkles and cam have front footed discussions and debates around all of them. Not smooth them over, not ignore them.
We have to let brands “feel all the feels” as much as we do.
We have to let them get it wrong so that they can get it right.
The key seems to lie in authenticity. Increasingly the pressure is for brands to act with conviction not just correctness. People do not always get things right and brands don’t either. A brand has to be allowed to challenge you, disappoint you, make you laugh and make you cry all at the same time
Two brands seem to be leading the way on authenticity. The top marketer of 2020 – TikTok and the just named “most valuable brand in the world” Nike who has won the title for the seventh year in a row “despite recording a 13 per cent brand value drop to US$30.4 billion”
Not that long ago, people were burning their Nikes in protest, now they are looking to the brand to lead cultural conversations and rewarding it with sales for doing so. Nike has led on context, not changing its brand strategy but re-expressing it through products, brand behaviours and communications that are relevant to today.
On the other side, TikTok has come out of nowhere as the media equivalent of the “Trevor posters”. Nothing but pure joy and a rabbit hole of interests and emotions. TikTok connects through a platform that collaborates and creates culture in every moment. TikTok wins on content. In fact, recent studies show that roughly 49% of people on the platform will buy from brands that they see in the content whether that brand shows up perfectly or not because of the inherent authenticity.
These two brands show us the power of maintaining edges. One is an iconic brand that has stayed relevant, embraced its edges, responded to them and owned them, The other is a new brand born of its edges and perfect in its imperfections. Both have never been more relevant or more authentic
So if you see a badly printed yet brilliantly written poster of a Huskiguin called Trevor, what do you do? You wonder why? Then you let yourself smile, laugh, frown at the poster ripped down next to it and feel intrigued. You celebrate the perfectly imperfect for a moment and feel happy that creativity can still thrive in even the oddest ways. Let this be the year when we applaud brands for feeling all their feels and letting us do the same, for not editing emotions out of their DNA or their communications and becoming bland.
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