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The answer doesn’t look like an ad.

By Rory Hamilton, Executive Creative Director + Partner, Boys + Girls. This article first appeared in IMJ, October 2019. 

There’s a box on every brief labelled “Deliverables”. It’ll be there somewhere down near the bottom of the page, it may even have slipped onto page 2 (there should never be a page 2!). Read down past the Target Audience, past the Insight and the Proposition. Hit the Timings and you’ve gone too far. There!

In it you’ll find the form that the response to the brief should take – it might be a campaign for social, it might suggest some TV or outdoor, or typically a radio ad that’s already been booked at a length that can’t possibly fit the required Terms & Conditions. Deliverables is a box that appears on every brief, but it’s a box which should be challenged, if not completely ignored.

The problem with Deliverables is that you can never know the form that any campaign will take until you know what the idea is. And you can’t know that until after you’ve been briefed. Sure, you can steer your thinking in a direction, nobody is suggesting that creative exploration should take the form of an Ayahuasca fuelled vision-quest. Not yet anyway. But the truth remains that the best work always comes when you approach a problem without the answer already in mind.

More and more we are seeing campaigns that push the boundaries of what we call advertising. Campaigns that can’t be contained in any pre-prescribed box, ones that don’t look like ads at all. Big brands are moving further and further outside of their comfort zones to produce ground-breaking work to get noticed. In some ways this is a reaction to consumer behaviour. By the time we have all installed ad blockers to avoid the plague or programmatic detritus creepily following us around the internet waiting for a moment of weakness (jeez, get off the fence!), then brands have to take a different approach.

Some have moved budgets into product development, changing their marketing model from brand promises to brand proof. Nike are an example of a brand who use innovation alongside advertising to keep themselves relevant. By building an LED running track in Manilla back in 2017 they inspired runners around the world in spite of the fact that most would never set foot on their creation. Last year Nike converted an abandoned Church in Chicago into a youth sports complex, winning fans around the world with a local initiative and winning a Cannes Lions Grand Prix at the same time.

Other brands have moved into Entertainment. Last year Skittles, when faced with a brief for a Superbowl ad, produced a Broadway musical starring Michael C. Hall (Dexter, to save you Googling). By producing a campaign that was nothing like the Deliverables asked on the brief,  Skittles wound up producing the most-talked-about Super Bowl ad of the year, and winning every major advertising award along the way. This wasn’t a TV ad dressed up as a musical, it was the real thing. People went to a theatre and paid good money to go and see a musical about their brand.

Now in some ways Skittles and Nike aren’t fair examples, as brands they continually break the traditional rules of marketing and pushing boundaries is part of their DNA. Nike inspires an army of fans in a way that few other brands can dream of and Skittles have become famous for producing sweet little moments of madness.

So what about brands working in more conservative segments? Well, last year Johnson and Johnson stepped away from the usual to produce an incredibly moving documentary called 5B heroing the Nurses and Doctors on the front line of the Aids Epidemic in the early 1980’s. They told an important story that spoke to their brand values, turning the notion of paid media on its head. Their brand wound up appearing in film festivals and advertising awards around the world, something their advertising could never do.

And we are finally seeing this kind of work reach our shores. When I first heard about the House of Peroni opening in Dublin, any initial disappointment that it wasn’t actually a house made of beer (false advertising!) quickly faded when I saw what an amazing job it did of communicating a simple brand idea. It’s a stylish pop-up bar that provides an incredible brand experience for consumers, allowing people a chance to spend a few hours with the brand. Yes, it’s a single venue and one that’s only open for a short period to attendance is limited, but the halo effect that it creates for the brand lives on much much longer. It generates huge word of mouth, capturing influencers -though unfortunately releasing them a few hours later.

And if that covers the “talk about other brands or this’ll look like an ad for your agency” bit then with Boys + Girls, Three Mobile have been venturing further from marketing’s beaten track than ever before. In the past 18 months Three have gone from producing ads that talk about their music sponsorship to actually getting involved in making music. Last year’s Made By Music campaign saw them produce music videos for up and coming artists that went on to break YouTube world records. This year Three have gone further to produce collaborative music tracks, using music to connect the brand to a valuable audience.

By taking a step away from brand promises and moving into brand demonstration Three have managed to produce more interesting and more effective work. In order to demonstrate their brand purpose of a “Better Connected Life”, we have been working with Three to turn Arranmore, an island off the coast of Donegal into the “Most Connected Island in the World”. The campaign is working with islanders to use connectivity to improve issues like healthcare and environmental conservation while helping local industries like fishing and tourism to survive and thrive.

None of this is an argument against advertising. Great work will always find a way of finding and connecting with its audience, but it does show that the best brands are going further out of their comfort zones to find new audiences. Like all the examples listed, it’s a campaign that goes beyond traditional deliverables to make a real difference. But then creating real change is probably something that should appear in the Deliverables box on every brief.