There’s a scene in Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar-worthy Belfast where the film’s young hero Buddy is taken to the cinema to see the 1968 musical fantasy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Branagh’s movie is beautifully, brutally monochrome but the CCBB clip appears in its original glorious Technicolour, flooding the screen with warmth and transporting the Belfast audience - and the audience watching Belfast - to a happier, sunnier place.
Well it’s 2022 and hell it’s time to bring on the Technicolour. And all bets are on creativity to help take us all to a happier, sunnier, more colourful place.
Let’s be clear: commercial creativity hasn’t taken a holiday for the last two years. In fact, considering the production constraints, the challenges of remote working, a talent shortage and the unprecedented shift in consumer behaviour, creativity has absolutely thrived.
I was a judge at this year’s British Arrows awards and watched two years’ worth of the best audio visual efforts of the British ad industry. So much of the work was phenomenal. And it immediately made me want to grab the industry by the collars and demand more kick-ass confidence, more pride in the standard of work here, more premium price tags for such transformative creative firepower.
British commercial creativity has triumphed amidst Covid adversity, with work that has sensitively reflected the national mood, helped brands adapt swiftly to the sudden wholesale shift in spending patterns online, and underpinned marketers’ purpose agendas.
But after a couple of monochrome years of loss and isolation, we are ready for a return to humour, joy and warm human connections. And for marketers seeking long-term brand building solutions, that means permission to use creativity to be more expansive and playful with audiences.
TV allows us to be visually romanced and persuaded in a very primal way
Harjot Singh Global Strategy Director, McCanns
In his new book “Look Out”, Orlando Wood makes the case for a new era of creativity that celebrates human interactions, that fuels positivity and brings joy. “In a world full of fear, anxiety and detachment, now more than ever we need advertising with wit and charm, with human vitality, advertising that entertains,” Wood says. “We need to 'look out’’ because audiences turn away from advertising that looks inwards, we need to create a spectacle that opens the eyes and warms the heart of those we wish to persuade.”
Even before the pandemic hit, Wood argues we were already withdrawing, turning inwards, as personalised screens began to disrupt the public sphere on an industrial scale. Over the past decade or so we’ve become increasingly detached from the world around us and as we hyper focus on our phones we have lost something of culture’s vitality. And personalised, activation-orientated advertising has surged as a result.
This trend has not been particularly creatively fruitful. Direct, highly targeted, personalised advertising - fuelled by data and science - doesn’t often hit the creative highs that touch emotions, drive long-term effectiveness and build customer loyalty across the years.
Instead it is creativity that takes a broader focus, appealing more to our right-brain emotional receptors, that can achieve lasting business effects. Research suggests that the most effective brand-building advertising will be the work that delights and entertains, that helps lift us out of the gloom and makes the world seem a more connected, friendly place. This is the advertising that will drive profits, share gains, salience, fame, trust and esteem for a brand.
I hate the idea that there’s any sort of formula for creative excellence; creativity is a magical, alchemical, rule-breaking process that often defies logic…and pre-testing. But Wood makes some sound observations about the ingredients of what he calls “broad-beam” brand building work. It involves “creating advertising with an appreciation of human uniqueness, human movement, connection, with character, incident, place, with humour, with music, warmth and colour,” he says.
Creativity, in all its forms, has always been about the pursuit of reaching and connecting with as many people as possible
Chaka Sobhani Global Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett
And it’s why TV offers advertisers such a rich creative canvas. Chaka Sobhani, the global chief creative officer of Leo Burnett and a former creative director at ITV, is a passionate fan of television and of the populist advertising that thrives on the medium. “Creativity, in all its forms, has always been about the pursuit of reaching and connecting with as many people as possible,” she says. “Whether a musician, an artist or an advertiser we are all driven by moving people en masse, to feel something collectively and individually. TV still enables us to do this in both incredibly creative and effective ways.”
Moving people en masse to feel something is the essence of TV’s power to fuel brand growth. As Harjot Singh, the global strategy director of McCanns, put it: “We are constantly being advertised to. But not all of it gets our attention always. When it does, it is because we have found something so compelling that it has drawn us in; an attraction too irresistible to ignore, a distraction too thrilling to dismiss. A reward for your attention; it lingers. Television has the capacity to create that magic on many levels.”
For Singh, TV still offers advertisers a transformational creative canvas exactly because of its ability to connect people and to connect us with the culture around us: exactly what Orlando Wood’s research has identified as so vital. “It’s not just that the duration of the impact of TV advertising is proven to be longer,” Singh says. “Or because TV still makes up the majority of the average person’s day in video content. Or because it promises scale and immediacy at once. But it’s because TV allows us to be visually romanced and persuaded in a very primal way. TV is a shared experience instantly. It’s a bit like looking at the moon. One is never alone in doing so. There are millions of other people seeing the same advertising as you and possibly at that very same time, allowing brands to effectively land in culture by drawing from culture.”
I really love that idea that the shared experience of TV advertising is like looking at the moon. But please can we see it in Technicolour this year?