Media should be less beige and more Beyoncé

VCCP Media's CSO Will Parrish shares what media planners can learn from Beyonce breaking the internet

By Will Parrish

I’m an optimist. We’re in a golden age of creativity. Brands are reinforcing decades old memory structures in fresh, exciting ways - characters are getting Tango’d again, Heinz asked people to draw ketchup (guess what they drew), and Cadbury’s reminded us of our own ‘glass and a half full’ memories.

The simple joy of CeraVe with the inimitable Michael Cera. Liquid Death, already a crazy, wonderful example of creativity has invited Ozzy Osborne into their advertising to tell kids, based on his own experience, not to snort or inject their new hydration powder product. We’re laughing, we’re crying and then we’re buying. 

We’re also in a golden age of media. There’s more content, that’s higher quality, more democratised and more accessible than ever. Gaming IPs, news stories, YouTube channels are getting greenlit with Hollywood budgets for global audiences. Sports are captured by documentary crews as the action happens so we can ‘Keep up with the Verstappens’.

Social media has allowed cultural icons to become multi-faceted and accessible, and average Joes to become the most influential voices on the planet. They’re not obediently adhering to pre-defined boxes.

A content creator is a multimedia platform, a brand, a company, a sales channel and a cultural accelerant. What’s on our ‘big screens’ we carry around on our ‘small screens’ and who we tune into is just as likely to be broadcasting from their living room as they are from Westeros. 

All of this is a weird and wonderful new set of paint brushes for us to paint brilliant new brand stories with - more connected and more fluid than ever before. 

This is because we’re in a golden age of technology. It’s complicated, and yes, a little scary. But it’s allowing brilliant solutions to unsolvable problems to be built anywhere, by anyone. Is AI coming for our jobs? Yes. But in the large part, it’s the tedious, humdrum ones we hated to do anyway. For media people, it’s less manual spreadsheet input. Less management of the minutiae of spots and dots buying. Freeing us up to craft, create and concoct new ways to use media. We can rage against the machine, or we can rage with it.

So, what’s the problem? We in media are not getting the memo. The way we plan and buy advertising space. It’s unbelievably beige. 

It’s beige because it all looks the same. Block bought, block planned and solely determined by media metrics. It’s beige because it isn’t connecting, hacking, challenging and bending this wonderful world to create new solutions for the brands we work with. 

Instead of stepping up to this golden opportunity in a golden age, we, as media people, have lent wholesale into technology and algorithm smarts over planning art. We have got comfortable saying yes to the computer and the computer saying no to new ideas. Usually because it hasn’t been proven to deliver before, or the algorithm hasn’t learnt people want to see it… guess what, it’s never been seen before! A machine hasn’t had a chance to learn about it. We have built specialisms to cater for each new exciting pocket of the media as they emerge…and in so doing, we’ve lost the ability to stitch it together.

But fear not. There is one media planner out there who is slaying. And her name is Beyoncé. 

At the Superbowl, Verizon put together a brilliant ad, challenging Queen Bey to ‘break the internet’.

She launches a lemonade stand, live streams as BeyonSlay, runs for Beyoncé of the United States... each time, its good… but doesn’t quite break Verizon’s 5G.

Little did we know, Beyoncé had a challenge of her own during the Superbowl: to break into country music - a scene that may be the only corner of the world she has yet to conquer. So in the final few frames of the Verizon ad… she says “Ok, they ready?… drop the new music”. Simultaneously she dropped Texas Hold ‘em and 16 Carriages to the world. She won the search battle and rocketed to the top of the country music charts (the first black woman ever to do so) as 123 million Superbowl viewers were prompted to check out her latest offering.

It was creative, it hacked the medium, it had a clear set of metrics, it understood the audience and where growth could come from.

So what is Beyoncé inviting us all to do? Well, beyond uploading line dancing videos to Tiktok, she’s asking us to challenge the media. She’s asking media to interlock its fingers with creative more than ever. Media needs creative to push against conventional boundaries.

Creative needs media to simplify the dark arts of data and technology. We don’t have the luxury of being Beyoncé, but we all have the opportunity to behave a bit more like her.

Will Parrish is the Chief Strategy Officer at VCCP Media


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