Jack Winter, Group Planning Director, Craft Media London
Storytelling and smart distribution always have been, and always will be the special sauce when it comes to influencing culture through advertising. Relying on the strength of an idea alone and hoping it will achieve some sort of viral fame is lazy planning. It will just become another self-congratulatory marketing post on Linkedin that nobody in the real world catches a sniff of.
If you want your clever idea to transcend advertising, then you need to tell it as a story that will resonate with your audience, and you need to make sure they’ll actually find, notice and experience that story through broadcast diffusion (considered planning).
Let’s go back to the noughties…
I showed up to a friend’s birthday drinks the other week wearing some Christmas-fresh Converse Allstars. Within a couple of minutes, an acquaintance said to me ‘Oh Converse Allstars, you’re like Will Smith in iRobot!’ The epitome of awkward first drink chat.
But it got me thinking. That connection was formed by product placement of the trainers in a film released 20 years ago. iRobot relaunched Converse under their new Nike masters to a new generation of teenagers with a celebrity at the height of his powers (albeit in a hilariously clumsy way). The film grossed £4.7m in the first weekend and the shoes appeared throughout the story, so they’re remembered.
That film was released in 2004, right in the middle of a period where here in the UK hundreds of subpostmasters were being prosecuted for crimes that they did not commit. That scandal has exploded into national consciousness in the past weeks following the release of the ITV drama ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’.
ITV are rightly cock-a-hoop with the impact that the campaign has had. There’s been public outcry. Petitions have been started. The former CEO of the post office has handed back her CBE to placate the baying middle classes. The government (having largely ignored the injustice until this point) suddenly can’t do enough for those affected.
Simon Dalglish lauded the power of TV to affect culture. 7.3m million people on average watched each episode go out live, and on average 2.8m (BARB Techedge) have watched on ITVx as the interest has snowballed following that rare beast: a 2020s watercooler moment. Whereas the scandal passed relatively unnoticed previously, this time around the focus of the drama on the character of Mr Bates gives the hundreds of victims a focal point for the emotion, where before it was all statistics.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s streaming statistics are telling her a very happy story at the moment. Her song ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ (certified banger) is back in the top ten after appearing at the end of Amazon’s horny-posho-noughties-nostalgia horror flick ‘Saltburn’.
The song played as Barry Keoghan’s Oliver Quick whirled himself around in celebration at the end of the film, it’s thematically perfect as well as being an earworm. But being in the film alone didn’t result in the latest chapter of the Sophie Ellis-Bextorennaisance.
Saltburn grossed £5.4m at the UK box office, but was then swiftly released on Amazon Prime Video (who dangled it in front of me whenever I opened the app). With 24% of the UK population signed up circumstantially because they want free/next day Amazon delivery, millions more people saw this overnight than would have if it was released via the cinema alone.
The graph shared by S.E.B on her instagram shows the effect of the cinema release, then the absolute tidal wave that followed through Prime Video. But this was of course fuelled by the TikTok trend which saw various incredibly well off TikTok users dancing through their own massive houses to the song. The cumulative effect of three different channels combining.
Brilliant planning delivers cultural clout when the story is good enough.
These three noughties-themed tales reinforce the fact that a brilliantly creative idea is nothing if nobody sees it. Similarly, everyone will look straight past a poor idea, and no matter how high the reach percentage is of your audience it will drop straight out of cultural consciousness and land on the scrap heap with the rest of the advertising.
This isn’t a call to pump out more shit for the internet through promoted brand social content of your latest stunt. It’s a plea for people to think beyond simply banging the video cut downs through YouTube and finding the right context for the story at the heart of the idea. If we want to deliver truly brilliant comms planning that won’t see our jobs all eaten by AI in the next decade, then we need to start properly collaborating with our agency partners and finding ways to pull their ideas through into our comms plans.