Mainstream populism isn't a dirty phrase
Popular culture - including Peppa Pig - is something that the advertising industry should hold closer
30 November 2021
Unlike the current incumbent of No.10 I've never been to Peppa Pig World, but I quite fancy it now. Prime Minister Johnson's rambling and disorganised speech to the CBI attracted attention, mostly for the wrong reasons, but his attempt to make a connection between popular culture and its contribution to UK plc was undoubtedly a valid one.
(The parallels between this animated preschool porker - Peppa, not Boris - and creativity within the advertising industry might not seem obvious, but bear with us).
Popular culture isn’t always to adland’s personal creative tastes; you don’t find many industry leaders dissecting the latest episode of Vera or recoiling over last night’s nasties in I’m a Celebrity. Then there are those perennial media surveys of the nation’s favourite ads that very rarely throw up the work that earns a Cannes Grand Prix or a Black Pencil.
And while we’ll all obsessively debate who’s done the best Christmas ad, we’re much less comfortable considering (and enjoying) the popular cultural context into which these campaigns are launching. Of course the industry is awash with work that real people engage with – even love - in their millions, we’re just not so good at respecting and championing the creativity necessary to have that kind of impact.
Who "wins Christmas" (or indeed any other sales period) isn't often the agency or brand that surprises and delights others within advertising circles. It’s the work that touches swathes of real people and embeds itself in popular culture that is most likely to achieve the business goals it was set out to do - much like Peppa Pig, which as well as spawning books, games and entertainment parks is shown in 180 countries and achieved global sales in excess of $1.3 billion in 2019.
There's nothing new in this of course, but it was surprisingly refreshing to hear Leo Burnett’s global creative chief Chaka Sobhani extol the joys of unashamedly embracing mainstream popularity at the agency’s Pop Fest event this week.
Sobhani’s absolutely right to place advertising in a wider cultural context and to set the industry’s creative output alongside that of ITV, of popular fiction, of TikTok stars and so on. It’s exhilarating to place advertising on the biggest possible cultural stage, but it also raises – and redefines - the creative bar for everyone.