What I learnt about Creative Bravery & Effectiveness at Most Contagious

Charlotte Williams

You have a choice

We heard that inflation is at 11.1% in the UK, the highest for 41 years. We know that production increases are being passed onto consumers (the price of Lurpak has gone up by a fairly earth-shattering 33%). But the resounding message from the folks at Contagious and in the case studies was to feel the fear but pick your position: hustle, be useful, get creative, partner, bury the competition. Do whatever it takes but don’t…go dark. We saw examples from Octopus Energy and its counterintuitive “free energy blanket” campaign as well as Sainsbury’s “Feed your Family for a Fiver”, which has generated a  whopping £5.55  ROI for every £1 spent. 

Creativity always wins against the odds

Most Contagious was a joyful reminder that it’s the most emotional, most redemptive, most funny campaigns that stand out, giving brands the kind of excess share of voice that helps them grow. One of the most impressive entertaining case studies we saw was from Marcel Paris for its Gold Lion-winning “Hack Market” for the refurbished tech brand BackMarket.  With a definite nod to Burger King’s “Whopper Detour”, the team from Marcel airdropped details of Back Market into customers of Apple’s flagship stores on Earth Day.  The lawyers said “don’t do it”, the task was almost logistically impossible and let’s face it, they were going up against the world’s most loved brand. But its creativity paid off against all the odds. See it here

Fortune favours the brave

The mood at Most Contagious was definitely one of optimism. Perhaps that’s because creativity is a natural dopamine booster, and there was a lot of that on display.  We didn’t’ need to be reminded that there is a lot of bad sh*t happening in the world: the work we saw was inextricably linked to world affairs: the war, the environment, imperialism. Creativity reflects culture. 

The brands that stood out in commercial gains and in social impact were ones who defied expectations of their category (Liquid Death), who took on the big guns (Back Market, Samsung) and who achieved something that most people thought was impossible (Sheba).

If Bill Bernbach’s observation that “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic”, latterly reinforced by Karen Nelson-Field’s research that shows that “85% of ads sit below the memory threshold”, then we’d better get our brave pants on. 

Tech is a means to an end

Those who are easily seduced by the bells and whistles of any shiny new tech: be warned: no good strategy starts with “because we need to get into the metaverse”. The tech on-show at Most Contagious was a masterclass in digital craft and the adoption of mixed realities to make the impossible possible. Dentsu WebChutney told the audience how its incredible “The Unfiltered History Tour” used immersive VR to retell the truth of colonialism and stolen artifacts. It was the only way they could have achieved the quality experience that this work won so many awards for. 

Similarly Virtue’s ambitious “Back Up Ukraine” involved recruiting 8+ technology partners to help its civilians capture secure images which could be uploaded to then create 3D digital blueprints in a cloud archive. The tech behind this campaign is complex and ground-breaking. But the idea at the heart of it is extremely simple. 

Marketing is a complicated dance

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but marketers often love to hang their hat on one idea or make what is often very nuanced  extremely binary. It’s confused me for years and at Most Contagious I felt a little vindicated. Performance v. brand, differentiation v. salience, attention v. engagement. Let’s not even get started on Web3 (more on that later).  The reality is, as Professor Felipe Thomaz points out, we love to over-simplify concepts and debate them voraciously on Linkedin, all the while ignoring the fact that marketing success relies on more than just the latest theory. 

It’s a rich topic/s and one that I can’t do justice to on one slide, but there was an almost palpable sigh of relief when the Prof pointed out that marketers jobs are actually very complicated…BUT: None of this means that creative output should be anything other than brutally simple.  

Real brand purpose pays

There is legitimate cynicism towards brand purpose, most notably recently with some pretty misfired virtue signalling at the World Cup (and deafening silence from official sponsors). At Most Contagious we heard from the brands whose purpose is rooted to a fundamental product truth and who claimed that a commitment to purpose has been a critical accelerator of growth. Even Hellman’s Mayonnaise convinced us that its mission to end food wastage is as authentic as the creamy condiment itself. WIth 10% growth in 2020, it’s also proven investors wrong. 

What stood out so much too is how long this work actually takes to do. Sheba’s “Hope Reef” is a long-term commitment that took four years to launch and in its role as a content creator and educator, Mars has even taken money from competitors to continue the reef restoration.  “Hack Market” took 900 days to plan. These were case studies that were a masterclass in how to get sustainability right: for the planet and for shareholders. 

Meta is an evolution, not a revolution

Contagious editors broke down some gnarly tech concepts for us and gave examples of good campaigns that have used virtual worlds meaningfully rather than an ill-advised foray. We heard that Meta's share price is down 73% in 2022. It’s suffered $30.7 billion in losses since 2019.  NFTs have seen 97% losses since January and Crypto has fallen off a cliff. 

Advice from the experts? Use the world of gaming to test and learn. We know gaming is on a boom. And focus on the real-world first.  In a fast-paced session, Tom Standage from The Economist predicted that 2023 would be a year of reckoning for all things Web3/Meta, as with Apple’s VR/AR headset set to launch next year, the future is  pretty much anyone’s guess. 

Be a brand people wish existed

You don’t have to make grand gestures to be a brand people care about. It can be as simple as making entertaining your audience or a more generous initiative, like Iceland’s Food Club, which offers customers ethical, interest-free food loans. Either way, be a friendly, helpful type of brand: one that doesn’t get in the way. “Don’t be a dick” was a mantra we heard throughout the day (you can’t disagree with that). 

If your product truths don’t align with the brand personality, then find a new product truth which does. Nils Leonard talked about this with the new Uncommon work for British Airways: how they sought to unlock “original British” in every single outdoor piece they produced (and there are hundreds).

Shall we work together?

You can either book straight into a meeting with Charlotte & Jo using the link below or fill out the form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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