Try this experiment:
Think about how many digital interactions you have each day that are designed with grid systems, use bold yet simple colourways, language as instruction, icons as navigation, rhythmic and repetitive patterns, and feature music without lyrics.
Now, scroll through your social feed, switch on your TV, or look at some posters on your way home. How many brands advertise to you using the exact same formulas?
A ubiquitous creative style has emerged in the last decade, born out of digitalisation, that borrows the aesthetics of product, platform, and service design and applies them to advertising.
This should come as no surprise as the worlds of creativity and technology have become so intertwined in the last decade. But as this advancement in design thinking has enabled marketers to harness greater pace, agility and efficiency, we have simultaneously seen a decline in advertising effectiveness.
This is especially worrying for challenger brands who dream of long-term growth but often fall into the trap of using this formulaic approach as it’s a quicker - and therefore more cost-effective - way of getting their brand ‘out there’.
But where this creative formula is excellent at getting a brand noticed, it’s pretty crap at getting them remembered.
The design ‘systems’ mentioned above, are brilliant at focusing your attention and helping you achieve a desired goal – like finding a movie to watch, making a bank transfer, shopping for clothes, etc. But they don’t leave meaningful, lasting impressions on the brain.
Brands grow by creating mental availability, and that’s best achieved with surprises, storytelling, language as conversation, characters, and novelty. They create the emotional glue that allows your key distinctive assets to stick to those all-important neural pathways.
Of course, you also need clear short term-tactics that grab attention and create action, but long-lasting business effects require more emotional engagement. No one explains this better than System1’s Orlando Wood.
So why are so many brands, especially challenger brands, falling into this trap of prioritising getting noticed in the short-term over being remembered in the long-term?
Here’s my take on it:
Digital, as a medium, has profoundly sped up the way we operate. But this has subsequently created a lowering of human attention. The knock-on effect is that brands have had to speed up their methods of engagement – often resulting in formulaic, goal-driven messages that create a further lowering of attention. And so, a vicious circle has been created that gets harder and harder to break.
As creativity and technology collided, new processes and idioms emerged that were exclusively based on the virtues of speed and short-term wins.
Facebook’s founding values were FOCUS ON IMPACT and MOVE FAST, and they lived by the mantra DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT. Google innovated the DESIGN SPRINT to solve problems in five days. The HACKATHON, in less than a day. And, this year, I discovered the RELUME DESIGN LEAGUE, the first e-sports for web designers who compete in live events to create a website in just 30 minutes!
If there is one constant in the language of technology, it’s “how can we make this happen faster?”
We have become addicted to measurement. The ability to monitor the short-term effects of digital marketing has led to a focus on the highs of immediate gratification.
This is especially true for challenger brands who have stakeholders and investors breathing down their necks to provide data on ROI. This makes us feel great in the short-term, but it doesn’t last, and it certainly doesn’t grow brands or drive long-term profits.
Technology has sped marketing up and, in so many ways, it’s for the better. But it’s also created a trap that challenger brands - and some established brands - are falling into. There is a way of avoiding it, though, and it doesn’t mean a reversal to old methods, a slowing of pace or, indeed, a mega budget.
If you're a challenger brand and have ambitions to grow in the long-term then the best thing you can do is get your foundations right. A strong foundational idea will set you up for the future and allow you to stay flexible in the present. But it must be based around your audiences' emotional triggers. The foundational question should always be ‘how do I want my audience to feel?’, not ‘what do I want my audience to do?’
Get that right, and they’ll stay with you forever.