Why brands need to defy category conventions

A few years ago, I made regular trips to Shanghai. Part of my routine was to walk down Nanjing Road from my hotel to the Kantar Millward Brown office and along the way I would be exposed to outdoor ads of a genre I call “lonely person with watch”. When all ads in a category obey the same conventions, they become totally unremarkable.


In 2011, in the course of a twenty-minute walk down Nanjing Road, one could pass at least 20 billboards for different brands of watch and I am convinced that all of them adhered to the same convention. A single person stares meaningfully (or to my mind, mournfully) out of at the people passing by. The image would be accompanied by a word or brief phrase. Here are a few examples,

Romantic moment (really, just you and your faithful watch)

Shaping moments for life (plural moments must be better)

Elegance is an attitude (actually, I think it is a quality)

Anyway, sarcasm aside; the point is that all these ads, big or small, followed the same formula. Which is why none of them stood out. The only reason I remember what these ads showed or said was because I was so intrigued by their consistency that I took photos of some. As it was, I never did anything with those photos until now, when I was reminded of their existence by a recent article in The Drum.

Alistair Beattie, co – CEO of DDB & Tribal Amsterdam, wrote a nice piece titled, ‘Advertising Against a Sea of Indifference’. It is a plea for advertisers to embrace humanity’s complexity and stand out from the crowd. He writes,

“A great brand is a point of meaningful difference from the generic alternatives. It’s not a competition to see who can blend in. Rule breakers and risk takers drive the category by creating their own standards.”

In a world drowning in content, brands need to find a way to earn attention and they will not do it by adopting the same conventions as their competitors.

When I had car companies as clients, they would often decry ads the stereotypical ad that showed the car driving along a wet and winding country road or navigating a crowded city. Yet the same conventions are alive and well in many videos today. As a result, when a car company is brave enough to put dogs behind the wheel of its cars, the resulting campaign stands out from ones that just focus on how good the metal looks in action.

The Link pre-test database shows time after time that ads that are seen to be distinctive are more likely to be noticed, online or off, so why do so many brands fall foul of category conventions? Please share your thoughts.

Published @ http://www.millwardbrown.com/global-navigation/blogs/post/mb-blog/2018/10/10/why-brands-need-to-defy-category-conventions by Nigel Hollis | October 10, 2018

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