News & Views

Opinion / Dare to be Dull

by Chloe Markowicz

Chloe Markowicz argues why in advertising sometimes it's ok to be boring.

In the upcoming issue of Contagious magazine, I explore why male grooming brand Axe has abandoned its long-running strategy of ads featuring gorgeous girls succumbing to the scent of its body spray. In place of The Axe Effect, the brand, with agency 72&Sunny in Amsterdam, is now encouraging guys to ‘find their magic’.

It was fascinating to hear from the agency strategists and Unilever executives about how Axe has embraced a more inclusive version of masculinity to appeal to the modern man. But one comment from Axe global consumer and market insight manager Daniel Chadwick has especially stuck with me. ‘You’d be amazed how many guys haven’t seen “The Thing”', Chadwick said of the Find Your Magic TV spot, which has racked up more than 10 million YouTube views since January 2016. ‘We as a business can get bored of something a lot quicker than the consumer.’

This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard the complaint that advertisers tire of their own creations too quickly, sometimes long before a campaign has fully hit the public consciousness. When we explored Snickers’ mega-successful You’re Not You When You're Hungry proposition for Issue 49 of the magazine, we explained how both BBDO and Mars acknowledged that marketers and agencies got bored of their work much earlier than audiences did.

It’s important for marketers to be self-aware enough to admit their fickleness because, when it comes to achieving results, consistency is key. In his IPA report last year, marketing consultant Peter Field found that short-termism in advertising was undermining effectiveness. ‘Creativity is greatly worth striving for so long as it is used for long-term objectives,’ said Field. ‘Short-termism is a threat not just to the power of creativity but also the health of brands.’

Often marketers reject a long-term outlook in favour of keeping things fresh and cool. When your entire life revolves around a single brand and a single tagline, so much so that you’re dreaming of anthropomorphised M&Ms or millennials enjoying frosty bottles of Coke, it’s hard to imagine that someone could not have seen the piece of work you have poured all that blood, sweat and tears into. Yet it happens. The advertising industry is way more obsessed with itself than anyone else is. A 2012 Millward Brown study found that, at least when it comes to TV ads, the idea of ‘wearout’ is a fallacy and most ads should run for much longer than they do.

Advertisers’ boredom of their own work is certainly one reason why campaigns get pulled before they need to. Another reason is advertisers’ boredom of their own jobs. CMOs are notorious for moving companies after only a few years in a role. In fact, CMOs have the shortest tenure of any C-suite position, according to a report released last month by recruitment company Korn Ferry. The study found that CMOs in the US stay in their job for just 4.1 years, half as long as CEOs, who stay for an average tenure of eight years. As marketers jump from ship to ship, their primary goal is to make their mark at each destination. The result is often an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ kind of attitude, with each new CMO sacrificing consistency as he or she attempts to prove that things will run differently while they’re at the helm.

Of course, there’s a difference between the boredom of a single campaign and an entire brand proposition. Sometimes, as with Axe, there’s an imperative to refresh the brand. The key is then to maintain consistency once this happens. This is less about running the same campaign or type of campaign over and over again, and more about ensuring that the audience has no doubt about what the brand is trying to say. It's something Snickers has done extremely well with You’re Not You When You’re Hungry. As Crystal Rix, chief strategy officer at BBDO Worldwide, told us, ‘Snickers has such a clear brand idea and it’s so nimble that it can be at the forefront of marketing innovation without sacrificing what the brand proposition is.’

For marketers, each campaign represents a struggle between consistency and evolution. If the work strays too far from the brand’s proposition, it’s confusing. But there’s a danger too for brands to just continue to push the same message without responding to culture or the changing attitudes of its audience. As Rik Strubel, global vice president for Axe, told me, the relaunching or building of a brand is a ‘continuous journey’, it’s a constant process of 'enhancements' and 'tweaks'.

So, forgive me for being boring but the lesson here is actually the same one that Contagious has been spouting for years: put your consumer first. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired of your campaign if audiences aren’t aware of it. And it doesn’t matter if your brand is consistent if it’s inconsistent with what’s happening in society.

For more on Axe’s repositioning check out the latest issue of Contagious magazine out later this month.