Douglas the fir tree

The Conversation

Instead of looking inwards let's exercise the funny bone

Who says social impact can't also raise a smile?

By Jeremy Lee

It's difficult to know what to make of the forthcoming Christmas break. Whilst the advertising industry has wholeheartedly thrown itself behind the spirit of togetherness that eluded us last year, the Omicron variant has cast a shadow over celebrations. Let's hope that the industry has read the runes right and that something approaching festive normality is allowed, whether that includes office Christmas parties or not (and on that note, how nice it was to see so many people at Goodstuff's tenth celebrations last week and the MGGB Christmas dinner this Wednesday).

As we all know Covid restrictions have led to a decrease in spontaneity, our physical worlds have contracted, and we have spent more time in homogenous groups. As a new report from Atomic London points out we have had to get used to “a more closed off way of living, with less experiences and tolerance and the prioritisation of conformity over difference”. 

The impact this has had on our professional, creative lives has been profound and is one of the biggest challenges our industry faces as it heads into 2022. As Atomic suggests, our reduced lives “threatens our capacity for creativity as smaller worlds temper risk taking, eliminate the unexpected, and even support cancel culture. Rigidity and control have replaced fluidity and imagination.” (Read our take on this here).

The Atomic study also segues neatly with the recent IPA publication Look Out, by Orlando Wood. His study discusses the 'inward turn' in art and culture that has followed technological change. Wood suggests that in advertising a "stare that coerces is replacing a look that caresses", and that this detachment from humanity and sensitivity has resulted in commercial creativity that uses targeting and creative styles focussed on the narrow and the immediate.

Wood reckons that an appreciation of human uniqueness, movement, connection, character, humour, music and colour - all essential to brand building - have now been replaced by solemnity and directness.

Boo hiss.

But It's not all bad news, however. Wood believes that our current state of heightened anxiety, detachment and enmity presents us with a wonderful creative opportunity to reignite the principles of brand-building advertising. These will become more important not less, Wood argues.

Amen to that - and as if to prove both Atomic's and Wood's point, new research from Kantar into the effectiveness of this year’s Christmas ads shows that humour and a lightness of touch have been key to driving effectiveness on both long-term and short-term measures.

Kantar’s study – which combines 3,600 consumer survey responses with AI facial recognition – decrees McCann UK’s campaign for Aldi as the most effective Christmas ad. The reimagining of A Christmas Carol, starring Kevin the Carrot, was praised for using humour effectively while also having a deeper sentiment - Aldi is donating 1.8 million meals to families in need this Christmas.

Social impact and fun therefore don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and how great to see the industry rediscover its funny bone. And on that note, it was also joyful to watch this animated film from Saatchi & Saatchi for the small sustainable deodorant brand Fussy, which shows it's possible to be both an inherently positive contributor to society (the product is made from recycled Christmas trees), as well as witty and distinctive. More of the same in 2022, please.


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