Mia Williams
Mia Williams 17 April 2019

The Long Versus the Short: Newsjacking Advertising Campaigns by Martin Smith, Twelve Agency

CEOs who are in the driving seat on average for a year and a half, are notorious for their short-termism in search for immediate-term legacy – a commonplace business complaint. Adland, on the other hand, is obsessed with long-term thinking. But could CEOs be onto something which agencies can learn from?

There is logic to forward-planning and long-term strategic thinking – it reduces staff stress through predictability, ensures strategic benefits for clients and boosts ad campaign effectiveness over a defined period. Day-to-day client contacts like it; it means they can manage up knowing everything is under control and on time.

This is all well and good, but the best sort of creativity – the sort that goes viral – is often best reached when connected to an unexpected culturally relevant event, rather than a planned-for one. And sometimes forward-planning puts greater brand safety risk on clients if consumer sentiment is not as predicted and reading the room wrong before you’ve even entered it.

BrewDog was a case in point last year. Its ‘beer for girls’ (replete with pink cans) ad campaign that tapped into International Woman’s Day (8 March) fell flat on its face. No doubt the intention was good – and closer analysis after the fact showed the revenues would go to women’s charities – but frankly, it was too opportunistic for most people’s tastes and stereotyped. While the closer analysis came too late to change perception; the damage was already done.

Should we go entirely reactive? Absolutely not. Long term strategy should form the bread-and-butter of your campaign work without which perhaps a reactive campaign would not be as effective. But such reactive ad campaigns can create piques in the broader advertising campaign, along with building brand awareness and brand equity.

What, then, makes a good reactive ad campaign?

Define your battles – and stick to them

Nowadays people expect the brands they interact with to reflect the values, purpose and agenda they espouse. People want to see ‘their’ brands be involved in the causes they hold dear to them as part of the wider experience they have with the brand.

But naturally brands cannot be everything to everyone all of the time, and those which have tried to shoehorn themselves into the latest cause have found themselves subjected to substantial ridicule. Pepsi’s Kyle Jenner ad is a classic example of this. In the end, Pepsi was quickly found out: what right does a multi-billion dollar global fizzy drinks brand really have to wade into the public discourse on racially-aggravated police brutality and the wider #blacklivesmatter movement.

Compare this to Nike’s iconic ‘Legends Run Forever’ billboard ads featuring Paula Radcliffe. Nike masterfully understood its brand purpose and the ‘right’ the brand had to authentically contribute to public sympathy for the British long distance runner after she had to pull out of the 2012 London Marathon due to injury. Crucially, it doesn’t deviate from the conversations it knows it can and should be involved in where it has something important to say.

When should you serve a reactive ad?

Question the morality of the business until the sun comes up, but there can be no question around Paddy Power being one of the best brands at reactive ad campaigns.

Its ads are notoriously controversial, feisty and provocative just like its brand, and this is reflected in the series of reactive campaigns over the years, from taking pot shots at ‘Tony’ who bet against England at the 2014 World Cup to hiring an arctic lorry emblazoned with ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ to circulate Westminster during the 2015 General Election.

But a word of warning to brands which are too slow off the starting block. The already derided Kylie Jenner’s Pepsi ad was several months too late to the rumbling conversation and ultimately failed to fully get attuned to the public sentiment. It was simply not a quick turnaround campaign, but equally it wouldn’t have been part of the long-term planning strategy.

What should the content be?

Much is made of big-budget cinematic work, but impact doesn’t always require a dense strategy and huge sums of money spent on long-arching campaigns. The vast majority of reactive ad campaigns work because they are funny or emotionally evocative, although getting the right tone isn’t always so easy. Not all brands can adopt this tactic, and perhaps many shouldn’t be reactive at all unless they are required to be.

KFC is a prime example of a brand whose reactive ‘FCK’ campaign expertly responded to the tricky situation of its chains running out of chicken. An equally good comparison is Mini’s ad referencing its horse power with a tongue-in-cheek jibe at Europe’s horsemeat scandal in 2013.

In both cases the brands’ ad creative ensured the brands stood up for something, and contributed to public discourse in a way that felt and looked authentic. Importantly Bright ideas, quick wins and reactive campaigns can be impactful –KFC’s response to its chicken shortage last year picked up swathes of awards including a Cannes Lion for swiftly and effectively dealing with an unexpected turn of events. It was humorous, quirky and quelled a potential PR disaster by acknowledging the error it made.

Martin Smith, Strategy Director, Twelve Agency

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