Marie Maurer
Marie Maurer 5 October 2018

Why British brands need to get Britain smiling again

In a world filled with uncertainty - it's up to brands to bring humour and entertainment back to advertising to really engage and invigorate the nation and beyond.

Two years, ninety-three days and about four hours, at the time of writing, since Britain woke up to the news that would divide a nation.

That’s two years, ninety-three days and about three hours of opining op-eds (guilty) pondering what our geopolitical crisis means for brands.

Not wishing to add unnecessarily to that undoubtedly rich canon of industry opinion, but with consumer confidence flailing and young people more anxious than ever, we need to redefine the role of advertising against this bleak backdrop.

The world in 2018 is a scary place. From the latest Brexit bungle to the wavering threat of nuclear war, there is unprecedented (unpresidented?) global uncertainty. Is it any wonder we are – to use the apocalyptic term coined by improbably named futurist, Faith Popcorn – ‘bunkering’?

72% of under 35s now prefer to stay in at weekends than go out. And when we’re “chillin’ with no make-up on” our drug of choice is pure-grade escapism. According to Canvas8, we’re consuming ‘more trash’ than ever before. 57% of Brits say their favourite guilty pleasure is watching daytime or reality TV. And in a recent Netflix study, people ranked ‘access to entertainment’ higher than food or water when commuting.

Protest all you want, but I believe we are in the business of entertainment. Creating appeal for products and services on behalf of our clients might be our end game – but how do we do that most effectively? By making people laugh, cry, smile.

I met a man in a rural pub recently, let’s call him Brian. Brian is in his late 50s, and has never been to London. When he enquired what I did for a living, I expected the usual glazed, slightly suspicious look I get from hardy farmer-types who, you know, do actual work. But as soon as I said ‘advertising’ his eyes suddenly shone with the light of a 4K TV.

Brian loves advertising. Within minutes he was singing jingles and excitedly reciting slogans from his youth. I asked him what his favourite ad was: a question he took very seriously. His brow furrowed. “You’ve got me there.” Not because he couldn’t think of any. Because there were too many incredible ads to choose just one.

Back in the 70s and 80s, viewers would often tell you that the ad breaks were better than the programmes. Now, half of us find nearly all TV ads ‘annoying’ and we avoid advertising wherever we can.

Advertising has gone from the fun guy at the party who makes you giggle to Kitchen Kevin, who traps you in conversation about market-leading mortgage rates or PPI or Pro-Retinol Q10 while you anxiously scan the room to find anyone, anything to save you from one more second of soul-sucking self-promotion.

Advertising has lost its panache, to use a flagrantly European word. But this is not another impotent lament on the decline of advertising’s golden era. This is a call for brands to get back to what they do best: rival the best of British entertainment.

As Paul Feldwick put it, "The public loves entertainment - yet entertainment is a word seldom heard in advertising circles these days.”

When we talk about roles for communications we all too often reach for obnoxious power verbs like ‘motivate’, ‘convince’, ‘persuade’ – but what happened to ‘entertain’? We are invading people’s living rooms/news feeds/carefully curated playlists; and if we insist on interrupting Megan’s Made in Chelsea binge, shouldn’t we offer something in return?

Times may be tough, but Britain has always thrived under adversity. Hard times should spur us on to a new era in creativity. Let’s add a question to our creative briefs: ‘How will this ad make people smile?’ Because we all need cheering up a bit. Brands – are you up to the challenge?

How can brands can get Britain smiling again?

  • Provide escapism. When the going gets tough, the tough watch Love Island. We all need to switch off; whether from incessant Brexit chat or the endless ennui of existence (too dark?) – the pre-roll is the perfect opportunity to create a moment of escape.
  • Remind people what really matters. Global events can feel out of our control and politics might be beyond our grasp, but there’s one thing that always brings us back down to earth: family.
  • Offer light relief. Our British ‘sense of humour’ is revered (and misunderstood) all over the world. Global edits usually don’t cut the mustard. Brands that get our British sense of humour will be loved for it.
  • Bring people together. Think less ‘Open Your World’, more Marmite – if brands can do anything, they can unite people behind a hyperbolised conceit to remind us that we’ll always have something in common with our enemies, even if it’s just yeast extract.
  • Be dramatic. Do we live for those ‘passive enjoyment’ scores on Link tests? No, we do not. Does the British public enjoy being yelled at about your sofa savings? No, they do not. Get people on the edge of their seat and you’ll edge closer to your sales targets.
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