How Marketers Can Win by Going Against the Grain

Like any other industry, marketing is a world in which trends emerge. And, when brands and marketers see those trends developing, there’s a natural desire to emulate and ride the coattails. Everyone wins, right? Not quite. Sometimes, those trends are leveraged to perfection, but other uses can leave a lot to be desired. In reality, the results vary greatly on a case-by-case basis.

For a moment, though, consider an alternative approach.

Think back to your childhood. You’re pleading with your mom to go to see a questionably appropriate movie at the theater. All of your friends are going, after all. But then, you hear that familiar refrain, to which you have no rebuttal.

“If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that, too?”

Mom might’ve had a point. Other people doing something isn’t a valid form of justification in and of itself. And the same thing applies to the world of marketing. Oftentimes, it is those who go against the grain that create the most impactful campaigns. Take a look at these three examples to see how you can differentiate your campaign from the rest of the trend-chasers.

The Holiday Activation

Whether it’s New Year’s Eve, Christmas, or anything in between, holidays provide natural marketing opportunities for brands throughout the year. However, when all brands choose to market around the same holiday, there is often a monotonous feel to it all. How many warm and fuzzy Valentine’s Day campaigns does one have to see before they all blend together?

This year, in a sea of sameness, the One Love Foundation saw Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to do something entirely different with its #LoveBetter pop-up shop in New York City. While the shop had teddy bears, boxes of candy, jewelry, and greeting cards, the items were hardly tokens of affection. Instead, the products were designed to start meaningful conversations about what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy relationship. Fat-shaming chocolates reminded consumers to watch their weight, heart pendants included a secret GPS inside, and talking teddy bears offered lines such as “You’re pathetic!” followed by “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that.”

In this case, the One Love Foundation saw Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to raise awareness because it is a time when couples cover up potentially unhealthy behaviors with gifts. By taking a different approach to the holiday, they were able stand out from the crowd and educate the next generation about how love is a skill that we all can work on.

The Tech-less Trend 

The modern world is so steeped in technological advancement that it sometimes feels like we’re integrating technology for no particular reason. Whether it’s at a concert, sporting event, or a brand activation, the constant phone-checking can create a disconnected audience. For that reason, we are seeing entertainers and brands alike go in the completely opposite direction.

For their combined show called Controlled Danger, Dave Chappelle and John Mayer banned smartphones, partnering with Yondr, a product that allows attendees to hold onto their phones in locked pouches that can only be unlocked from outside the venue. Meanwhile, Snapchat – a brand as “tech” as can be – chose to block its own application for attendees of its New Year’s Eve party at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, citing a desire to create an offline experience in which consumers could live in the moment. By creating an analog experience, these brands and performers created memories that attendees will remember through their own eyes rather than through the lens of their smartphones.

The Super Bowl Ad

While the Super Bowl serves as the culmination of the NFL season, for many people, it’s also a chance to watch some of the most creative advertisements of the year. Well, at least that’s what brands are hoping for when they pay five million dollars for a 30-second spot. Ultimately, though, many Super Bowl ads end up playing on the same, tired tropes, leaving little lasting impact beyond the evening.

This year, though, one advertisement stood out for going in a completely different direction. Despite starting off looking like a trailer for a Crocodile Dundee sequel starring Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth, Australia duped us all with its tourism ad. While it’s difficult to project what the impact of the advertisement will be in terms of travelers heading to Australia, the commercial was so popular that a petition was launched online to create a movie based on the premise of the ad. I’d call that a success.

Of course, brands look to emulate trends for a reason. They represent the newest technologies to leverage or what is most popular amongst consumers. However, brands choosing to follow suit should remember that it is often the most unique campaigns that win in the end. 

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