Galvanize people power for effective advertising

I remember when I first experienced Save the Children’s 2012 Christmas appeal. It was December 14th. I was sat on the tube. Looking at the most ghastly piece of knitwear I’d seen for a long, long time.

Throughout that Friday I would go on to see dozens of god-awful jumpers all over London. Then there it was in the Evening Standard (just some of the £1.4 million earned media value that day). I may not have known it, but I was witnessing the birth of Christmas Jumper Day.

The following year I would join them (a tasteful Rudolf number in case you were wondering). So did over 1.5 million others. Collectively we donated £1.3m to Save the Children. And the campaign enjoyed an ROI of £3.16 for every £1 spent.

Except of course, Christmas Jumper Day wasn’t a campaign at all. It was a movement. And by 2014 donations were over £4m thanks to an amazing four million of those knitwear crimes.

Whether it’s men being challenged to #sharetheload or women reconsidering what it means to be #likeagirl, brands that encourage their audience to join them in changing something are being rewarded in terms of fame, admiration and (as we see in these cases) sales.

Each of them has enjoyed their success because they had people on their side. Rather than launching another campaign, they chose to kick-start a crusade.

Sure, each of these was probably born out of a brand purpose, a mission, a North Star or whichever other synonym might have sat proudly atop of their brand template.

But it wasn’t the purpose that got people to tag a bragger with #holidayspam. It was the way Three mobile found an enemy and launched a movement to tackle it. Inviting people in like this provided a 19% increase in conversation volume on the way to a profit ROI of £1.46.

Both Christmas Jumper Day and Three's Sorry for the Holiday Spam represent a new type of creative platform. One that provides a way for people to be involved and impact the world they live in.

These brands recognised that the most powerful media channel they could invest in was people. And the good news is that any brand can do this.

The seven ingredients common to the most successful of these revolutions are not only clear; they are replicable.

1. You need a spark that defines what you want to change

First, you need a definitive goal. Next you need something that’s right for the brand. Finally you need a new angle – even if the issue is familiar, the best revolutions spark something fresh, new and distinct.

2. You need an action that inspires others to make the difference

People are the power in any revolution. But first you need to be clear about how they can fuel change. Once you have a clear sense of what needs to happen then you can start creating the actions themselves.

3. You need a rally cry that acts as statement of intent

The rally cry is a revolution’s call to arms. And very often its most public face. It’s the thing you want people to chant, to write on walls and to create #’s for.

4. You need a symbol that lets others show their allegiance

Whether it’s on the web or on the streets, your followers need to revolt around something tangible, and nothing does this better than iconography, images and symbols. The Christmas jumpers themselves were built for sharing, and it helped the revolution to spread. When people use symbols in this way it turns followers into both the media and the message.

5. You need mind bombs to catapult your cause into culture

The Mind Bomb is the image that’s going to open the world’s eyes, shock people out of their indolence and lead them to act. It’s the image that will capture what’s wrong in an instant. It’s the image that can’t be ignored.

6. You need propaganda that gets others talking and writing about it

If the mind bomb attracts a following with the fireworks, think of your social strategy as the roaring fire that keeps them there. But remember the lesson: inspire, don’t interrupt.

7. You need allies that spread fame and create change

Revolutions have always been ideas that spread with passion through a community. And in the end, it’s these partners who will ultimately make it a success.

The world needs more revolting brands

Today’s most successful brands still add to culture. But if the likes of Always and John Lewis and Ariel are anything to go by, the most effective way to do that in 2016 is by taking a social stance. Instead of focusing on what they’ve done internally, they look at what they could do in the wider world. They find their spark and seek change.

The boldest will make the change central to their brand idea itself.

Alex Lewis is Director of Strategy at BBDO EMEA.

Alex’s article is an excerpt from a new learning chapter written for the IPA’s seminal ‘Advertising Works’ series. The latest publication, Advertising Works 23, published earlier this month, shows how marketing communications have helped organisations as diverse as Guinness, The Economist and Save the Children translate big ideas into impressive business results. The book also features insights from experts across the advertising industry, based on themes which complement the invaluable information on brands in the case studies. 

Last updated 21 January 2022