Opinion

Chloe Markowicz

25 November 2021

Breaking out is hard to do 

Contagious editor Chloe Markowicz on distinctive brands and the science of simultaneous discovery

This article was taken from issue 69 of Contagious Magazine, which is out now. You can purchase an annual subscription (4 issues) of Contagious Magazine here

It’s Britney, bitch. And there she is again. And again. This past September, three documentaries about Spears came out in the very same week. Since similarly pitched disaster epics Deep Impact and Armageddon battled it out at the box office in 1998, the phenomenon of ‘twin films’ has become a Hollywood fixture.

There’s a parallel to this in science, the concept of ‘simultaneous discovery’. Mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, for example, each contested that they had independently invented calculus.

Of course, in advertising, we see brands coming up with virtually the same ideas all the time. Why wouldn’t they? After all they’re responding to the same trends and cultural conversations. But it’s nigh impossible to get noticed if your marketing is indistinguishable from everyone else’s.

In her piece in this quarter’s magazine on why brands should embrace truth-telling over storytelling, Ambika Pai, chief strategy officer at US agency Mekanism, warns marketers that jumping aboard the bandwagon of ‘super-hot cultural trends’ will see brands add to the clutter instead of standing out.

You don’t have to be better, you just have to be different

Pete Carter, Procter & Gamble

We also explore why distinctiveness is vital for brands in our report in partnership with Twitter and investigate how the marketers and agencies behind some particularly memorable brands were able to ‘escape the gravity-like pull of homogeneity to break with category norms’.

Liquid Death, a water brand with a heavy metal aesthetic, is a textbook example of shunning conventions to get attention. For starters, the skull on its can is a far cry from the snow-capped mountains on an Evian bottle. In our latest issue, staff writer Sunil Bajaj explains how the disruptor achieved 350% growth year-on-year by encouraging people to ‘murder’ their thirst.

But it’s hard to stand out if your competitors have all launched similar products and are fighting to prove their superiority. In our Brand Spotlight, we dive deep into how fast food brand Popeyes navigated this challenge and used a combination of sass and PR-savviness to win the ‘chicken sandwich wars’, growing its business exponentially in the process.

Pete Carter, a 40-year veteran at P&G, has plenty to say on the importance of distinctiveness. He chatted with our editor at large, Katrina Stirton Dodd, about how being distinctive is even more valuable than product quality when it comes to usurping the competition. ‘You don’t have to be better, you just have to be different,’ he argues.

Let’s hear it for distinctiveness, baby, one more time.

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