Why Standing Out by Fitting In is Every Brand’s Next Frontier

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Website and blogs bribing you to whitelist their page in your adblocker, pre-rolls begging you not to skip them and products placed conspicuously in your favorite VOD series. Welcome to the realm of today’s advertising, where business models are crumbling, systems are failing advertisers and the fight for attention is slowly lost.

Both agencies and marketers are struggling with what to do. We award creative concepts that play with the limitations of YouTube’s skip button. Or as AdAge called it: ‘injecting innovation into the creatively barren world of pre-roll ads’.

Meanwhile, IAB’s Scott Cunningham tried to criminalize adblockers by calling it ‘highway robbery’ at a New York convention last year. Desperate methods to fight the symptoms, rather than the root cause of the problem.

Since the start of advertising, the very basis of the trade has been to make brands and their products stand out. It is Bill Bernbach who said: ‘In advertising not to be different is virtually suicidal.’ Standing out meant creating distinction between competitors and getting noticed through fresh and new ideas that challenge convention. But somehow the media environment shifted the attention to the latter. Getting noticed. Standing out like a sore thumb, by getting in the way of what people want to watch, read and listen to. Keeping people from what they value, instead of standing out by adding value to their lives.

The result is no surprise: people have become extremely good at avoiding advertising. And the more they venture into the digital era, the more they are trained and helped. It is not that they simply don’t notice the commercial messages that are fired at them. They are dodging them like ninjas. Zoning out on phones during a commercial break, or fast forwarding the break altogether. Blocking, skipping, controlling what they want and do not want to see. We have become a breed of expert curators. And algorithms are helping us shape our own bubble even further. Facebook doesn’t just know if I like sports or pop music. It knows what party I would vote for. And it is dedicated to showing me only the things I like or think.

So we have arrived at a point where we can either keep fighting an inevitable truth. A cat and mouse game where advertisers and consumers keep trying to trick each other. Or we can accept we need to play by new rules. And realize that this will be an era where brands will stand out only if they fit in at the same time. That they have to create things people want to watch, and services they’d like to use.

Standing out by fitting in requires a new way of working. Creatives, creative technologists and strategists will have an equal stake in making groundbreaking creative work. To fit in means we need to have a thorough understanding of the technology that people use, how they behave, and the values they share. It requires crystal clear creative insights and leading edge technical knowledge. Only then will they be granted access to an ever harder to burst bubble.

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