Here’s to the complainers

At least a complaint means an ad is being seen - and isn't that what adland wants? Christian Finucane, founder and creative partner at The Core Agency, addresses the naysayers.

I have a theory there’s a correlation between the number of complaints a campaign might receive and its potential to deliver the goods.

It’s a gut feeling; perhaps a data scientist has run the numbers?

Because I’ve noticed over the years that many of the campaigns we’ve written that have received complaints have also driven great results.

We recently launched a cheeky campaign for one of our pure-play clients. One of the executions received multiple complaints, which concerned the team as they had bought the edgier idea, but any concerns were soon outweighed by an impressive uplift in sales.

No doubt social media plays a part in this. Clients, understandably, are becoming more skittish, not wanting a PR disaster unravelling in front of their eyes in the often-savage online bear pit. However, by choosing the safer creative option there’s also the very real danger of limiting the true power of what the campaign is designed to achieve.

And with seemingly shrinking budgets and a burgeoning stack of new media channels, campaigns need bigger edgier ideas to cut through, not vanilla thinking that too often simply holds up the mirror up society. I recently heard someone describe most brand campaigns these days as ‘bland campaigns’ – such is the propensity to just show a broad set of consumers simply doing what they do in their ordinary daily lives.

So, is it time to change the metric? Should clients be saying that if we’re not getting a few complaints, the campaign isn’t working hard enough?

Surely, it’s better to truly appeal to a distinct target audience and ruffle the feathers of a few on the fringes, than not really connect with anyone with a please-all approach. We all know that you can’t win all the people all the time.

Industry people often reference how much they admire Nike’s creative work, and it’s a case in point about the benefits of a brand being bold and having a strong point of view.

It has a discernible attitude built on a set of values that people can relate and aspire to – and then they really take it to the next level.

Just look at the Colin Kaepernick campaign in support of Black Lives Matter. They literally ran straight into the fire with the line, ‘Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.’

Whether you agree with this social issue or not, you can’t mistake Nike’s brand values and its true sense of purpose.

And by standing by what it believes in, it instantly earns an inherent trust with its consumers, not to mention millions of dollars in free media.

So, it clearly makes business sense to get out there and stir it up because it’s more efficient.

You get a better bang for your buck. Something that should even get the CFO listening to the CMO.

In fact, Nike’s brand exposure through TV, radio, online and social media following the Kaepernick campaign gained US$163 million in free media, not bad for one TV commercial.

Yes, there was a lot of good and bad publicity in the conversation and its share price briefly dipped by one percent – proving a principle is only a principle if it costs you money. Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is if you want to reap the big rewards.

And where the campaign got real traction was with millennials. So here’s a baby boomer brand mixing it with their future customers, which is pretty smart. A bit of raw honesty and a whole lot of balls can really pay off.

It’s also consistent brand behaviour for Nike.

Twenty five years ago, there was another great campaign featuring the Premiere League bad boy, Eric Cantona, who Nike was sponsoring. He had been banned from playing football with Manchester United after kicking a Crystal Palace fan who had been heckling him from the side lines.

On his return from suspension Nike ran a simple one-shot TV ad that I’ll never forget. Cantona talks remorsefully to camera about his indiscretions and subsequent ban. The spot concludes with him saying ‘Who will sponsor me now?’ just before the Nike logo appears.

It’s a great reminder that strong brands need to make bold (if not polarising) work if they want consumers to make confident choices. It ensures the people that matter will love it, remember you, talk about you and perhaps even buy from you.

So, next time you’re pondering which campaign to proceed with, ask yourself what concerns you more – if it attracts a few complaints, or doesn’t get noticed at all.

Christian Finucane is founder and creative partner at The Core Agency.


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