Where’s the “Gotcha?”

Ask yourself, “What’s different about this story?” Avoid the temptation to ever use a montage of lifestyle shots in advertising. If it can be found in a stock photo library, don’t shoot it again. The world has no use for one more photo of generic humans.

Nobody notices nice advertising. People notice when you punch them in the gut. Make your advertising do that. Grab the attention of the viewer in the first shot. Shock them with an arresting jolt of visual smack. Use word pictures. Start the content with something irreverent, amazing or disruptive. Surprise the audience with an unexpected ending.

Surf a tsunami on the roof of a house. Make your reader say, “That’s crazy!”

Remember how the consumer brain works. If there is no emotion, there is no advertising. Don’t get lost in the sea of formulaic ads. If you’ve seen it before, or if your idea feels safe, start over. Safe is the enemy of great. Good advertising should make you nervous. The most effective advertising usually gets the most consumer complaints. That’s because it gets noticed.

Brainstorm with somebody who thinks strange, random thoughts. Partner with class clowns, nerds and people who blurt out awkward things without social filters. Look at odd photos in stock libraries off the beaten path. Listen for that moment that makes you react with an emotion. Any emotion will do. We’ve found these secrets are most likely to inspire something worthy of remark in advertising.

More is not better. Different is better. Great advertising is about the simplification of a singular outrageous idea. Most often, the gotcha comes from the story you show, not the story you tell. Old Spice figured this out. It was known as the old man’s aftershave brand. I would have asked, “could Millennials ever really be attracted to a brand like that?” Yet, Old Spice set the tone for unexpected advertising with a surreal setting and a quirky former-football-player spokesman who said from his bathroom, “I’m on a horse. …” as he appeared suddenly riding bareback on a white horse in the Caribbean. Gotcha!

It was odd. It was unexplained. We all needed closure, but Old Spice wouldn’t give us the satisfaction of an explanation. They kept our attention. They kept us wondering. That expanded the story for the next time we could grab a glimpse of more obscure antics from their unexpected shirtless spokesman, online or offline.

Response to the TV campaign drove the Old Spice guy into social media, where he appeared to reach out to Millennials to engage them personally. He would respond to requests within minutes. Even a marriage proposal. This increased social interaction by 800%.

Today, Old Spice is a case study for turning a brand around. There was no path for them to follow. Instead when they saw the fish flopping in their brand relevance scores, they left behind the old model and rode the new wave. Fans drove digital activity as a result of traditional TV commercials. The brand never even talked about the product features to anybody. Instead, they sold unexpected moments that took consumers off guard, and we all wanted more. Especially Millennials. Not long ago, I saw a stick of Old Spice deodorant in my son’s bathroom, and I asked him about it. He said, “Old Spice is cool.”

– Excerpt from: Surfing The Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age