Wassup?, spongmonkeys, pug bread, an ice cream humanoid who eats its head with a spoon — there have been some very weird ad campaigns over the years. But where are they now? Where are the campaigns that stop people in their tracks and make them wonder what they just witnessed?
Sure, there are some. (Though, let’s be clear, just having Matthew McConaughey pontificate doesn’t count!) Balenciaga definitely got weird by pushing BDSM teddy bears in ads with kids. And, uhhh, that didn’t work too well. Liquid Death is leading the pack by encouraging people to murder their thirst through violent animations, recycling pleas from hell, and a blind taze test for haters. As you might guess from our previous blog on Liquid Death, we’re fans. But not just because it’s fun; they’re reframing a very normal product through outrageous and weird campaigns. And it’s working. Seems like more brands should be doing this, right?
Why is weirdness so rare these days?
Our theory: brands and marketers are becoming victims of their own processes and parameters.
It’s understandable. Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years for marketing campaigns. Where the norm used to be print, direct, radio, and television, campaigns now have to incorporate social (organic and paid), short-form video, long-form video, influencer marketing, search ads, HTML5 ads, banner ads, landing pages, and on and on. In short, there are more pieces to the puzzle and it can be overwhelming when trying to carve out an effective strategy that incorporates many different touchpoints.
One way to cope with these various mediums is to have experts in each area. One way to establish expertise is to develop a standardized approach where the underlying structure stays the same and things only change on the surface level.
The goal to establish standardized metrics and processes is justifiable. For example, when Meta sets character limits and images have to be less than a certain file size to work, those factors become part of the process. Plus, user behaviors are constantly evolving, so tracking those insights and incorporating that into campaigns might require utilizing a reliable process. But what insights are we talking about exactly?
“Insights” are part of the problem
We love insights. Who doesn’t? Peeling back the layers to see what’s underneath and recognize patterns that can make your marketing more targeted and effective, it’s great! But, when you read “insights” what data are you thinking about?
Are we talking about behavioral insights or psychological ones? Because they are not the same. Think about someone “doom scrolling”, obsessively scrolling sites and social media for bad news — the behavior is going to look just like that of a true fan, but the psychological motivation is vastly different.
Or, related to normal A/B testing, when all we have is behavior information it doesn’t do the best job of helping inform future creative strategy.
“Hey, the ad with headline A is blowing away headline B.”
“Great! Do we know why it’s so popular?”
“I just said it’s the most popular.”
“Yeah, but do we know why?”
“It’s the most popular.”
When we lack insight into the motivations behind consumers’ behavior, the best we can do is let the past inform the future. If headline A outperformed headline B, then we should continue on a similar path.
This type of tracking is the beauty and pain of digital marketing. Metrics are more readily available, so we think we’re gaining deeper insights into consumer behavior. And that’s true. But without follow-up and understanding the rationale that led to those behaviors, we’re always going to be chasing the effect and not the cause.
This might seem like I’m straying off the path of discussing why brands aren’t getting as weird anymore, yet THIS is the reason. Getting weird is kind of shorthand for taking a leap into the unknown. The brands and campaigns that get weird are willing to step into an area that hasn’t yet proven to be successful — if it were already established then they’d be following a norm instead of being intentionally abnormal. When we become beholden to “best practices” that are primarily informed by behavior tracking, we’re unintentionally locking ourselves into following pretty much the same paths over and over with minor variations.
Does this mean we should toss these insights out?
No, we should not toss out all the glorious insights we’re able to glean from consumers’ engagement with digital campaigns. What we should do is use it to inspire rather than direct future campaigns.
Brands like Liquid Death definitely looked at general consumer trends and behavior but were willing to ask, “What if..?” when they developed their campaigns instead of saying, “Here’s what..”
Am I saying we need weirdness in marketing? HELL YES! Successful marketing has to get consumers’ attention in addition to conveying the brand story and product benefits. Getting attention requires doing things differently from time to time. If we all keep using the same metrics to guide our strategy and creativity, we’re all contributing to a sea of blandness that removes the fun from advertising and the emergence of bold brands. To that, I say #gettawayfromme. Let’s get weird.