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Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Food for Thought: ‘Avant-garde differentiation’ in advertising

August 5, 2011 by Shane Holmes

Illustration by Josiah Bilagot

The advertising industry is a wild ride. With brands constantly reinventing themselves, the challenge to break through and leave a lasting impression on the masses becomes more difficult. In most cases, the challenge to engage on a personal level is even harder. Some brands are evolving beyond what we would expect and in all forms; tactically, visually and strategically. Think X-Men, but in advertising.

I’m defining these unorthodox or even radical changes as ‘avant-garde differentiation.’

In recent past we have seen a number of brands take this form of differentiation out of the agency boardroom and in to the market, leaving a lasting impression that changes how consumers see them.

Some brands represent obvious examples of these leaps in conceptual thinking. The first is an easy one: Old Spice. They have taken their brand from ‘old man smell’ to another extreme that attracts younger consumers because of their gregarious spokesman’s Tweets. Despite the many months that have elapsed since the heyday of the campaign, Mashable still links to Old Spice’s top 10 Twitter responses on their homepage.

In an effort to give their brand more visibility, Dos Equis has introduced a popular (and relatively long-standing frontman – ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World,’ an evolution inspired by such popular Chuck Norris thread gems as:

‘Crop circles are Chuck Norris’ way of telling the world that sometimes corn needs to lie the $%#! Down’

‘There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.’

‘Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.’

The thing that makes ‘The Most Interesting Man’ so unique is the fact that the character himself is a self-avowed “non-beer drinker.” This basically flies in the face of beer advertising as we know it, leveraging the character above the product as a form of promotion. But the appeal of the character is undeniable, as evidenced in their collection of brilliantly well-written spots.

While the word “flash mob” strikes terror into the hearts of any thinking creative now, there was a heyday which found its roots in T-Mobile. This brand takes avant-garde differentiation to the tactical realm with their Welcome Back musical flash mobs in major international airports. The impact these improvisational events have on the public leaves them talking about T-Mobile – notably without a T-Mobile logo in sight.

More recently, Perrier has taken avant-garde differentiation to a new level. For a brand that has a strong hold on the Mineral Water industry (in this case, sparkling water), they are making plenty of digital noise on YouTube with their new ‘Le Club: Can you handle the heat?‘ campaign. It is the first interactive experience that gets wilder and sexier as the number of video views increases. Intrigued? That’s what they’re banking on. See it here:   

Finally, Skittles ‘Touch the Rainbow’ campaign has evolved into an odd yet impactful user experience that is changing the way users view and interact with the brand and even YouTube itself. With more than 7.4 million views combined, their ‘Touch the Rainbow’ campaign is invigorated with left-field hilarity that somehow feels personalized.

Food for thought
Certain categories tend towards the same types of messaging, the same media plays, and the same ways of reaching their consumer. In each of the above cases, the brands abandoned typical media, tone, manner and even their tried-and-true demographics. In each case it was a risky move that paid off really well. So what does this say? Is risk always worth gambling on? Should we always strive to take our brands to a new level by differentiating from the norm?

1 Comment on "Food for Thought: ‘Avant-garde differentiation’ in advertising"

  • John Maden
    August 5, 2011 @ 10:26 am

    There’s a reason it’s called risk and that’s because there are notable failures. You could take the Groupon Super Bowl commercial as a more famous one where they tried to poke fun at all of the celebrities supporting causes motif. This gaffe didn’t work and caused a major PR problem for both the company and agency (CP+B).

    So to answer your answer your question as “always” I would say no. If you’re a dominant market leader I don’t think “thinking outside the box” is necessarily the right play. Something is working with both the current product and communications strategy and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    However, all of the brands you listed above were not market leaders. They were dead brands. Before the new Old Spice ads, my dad thought he was too young for the brand. I had never heard of Dos Equis before “The Most Interesting Man in The World” and if I remember correctly I believe T-Mobile was getting killed by Vodaphone and O2 in the UK. So if you’re behind and looking to make moves this is the time to take risks, shake it up and try to grab the consumer’s attention. This is exactly what Blackberry has NOT been doing; which, I feel, is a main reason why their losing share quarter over quarter.

    Remember Mac started getting huge share boosts from those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”

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