Campaigns – sometimes it’s OK to cliché

Most ‘modern’ PR techniques are actually as old as the hills. Although almost clichés, they usually contain something that speaks to us – or at least makes us speak to each other.

Campaigns – sometimes it’s OK to cliché

Take, for example, the recent brand creative use of poetry. The Santander ‘Turn financial crimes into rhymes’ campaign is one pertinent example; as is Coke’s collaboration with George the Poet, ‘Open like never before’.

Lyrical language has always been an effective vehicle for promoting narratives; just look at the job Shakespeare did for the Tudors.

Nostalgia always appeals but, understandably, it’s been especially big this year. Campaigns like Levi's 'Unforgettable Denim' speak to the longing for newly impossible things, while also promoting a positivity about the now. Greggs’ roller-skating JustEat campaign similarly evokes a simpler time.

Marketers have always known the appeal of an earlier, ‘better’ time. Perhaps the most famous example is Hovis’ 1973 ‘boy on the bike ad, which it relaunched in a remastered edition in 2019.

Christmas adverts are the epitome of fuzzy festivity and goodwill. However, it’s never been clearer that these exist in a fantasy world, and maybe this year advertisers should have strayed further from precedent. Nobody has told the protagonist of Disney’s campaign not to hug her granny or else, and it shows.

The desire to cosset audiences from reality is understandable, but in this case I think it backfires. We are all so immersed in our present reality that campaigns like Disney’s feel jarring and false. Others, like John Lewis, stay just shy of acknowledgement, with the result that the campaign feels muddled and non-committal.

What many of these campaigns have in common is the reach to a higher purpose. The Hovis campaign is not just about nostalgia, but about health; the Santander campaign aims to raise awareness of fraud among older people. Putting social issues at the heart of a PR or advertising campaign can be risky as consumers have a finely tuned sense for inauthenticity.

Nonetheless, brands have historically been at the heart of social justice campaigns, from the East India Company’s ‘not produced by slaves’ sugar in the 1790s to Body Shop’s anti- animal testing campaign in 1989. The Black Lives Matter movement has pushed anti-racism and other social movements back to the fore, while Pride created another opportunity for the likes of Diesel.

Just like all industries, PR is indebted to earlier thinkers and ideas. Certain mechanics recur time and time again: for instance, the ‘remove something and wait for people to notice’ technique. This has been put to use on products like Wispa, and for purpose-led campaigns such as Pringles and KFC’s support for Movember. The reason they keep coming back is that they really do work.

Combining tried and tested methods with new technologies (like VR, for instance) can bring about some truly fantastic results. So, if ever you’re stuck for a campaign idea, or wondering how well something will work, remember that sometimes, it’s OK to cliché.

Jeremy Page is a director at KWT Global


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