Rejecting Safety

To quote advertising legend Dave Trott, advertising should be about “jolting people out of their unthinking, routine behaviour”.

To make people think, to make them want to pay attention to the product we are marketing, whether that’s a shiny new car or a brand of glue.

To challenge beliefs.

To not be subversive simply for the sake of being so.

Coca-Cola recently relaunched their Diet Coke brand with new flavours. I’m a big fan of new and different beverages (I miss the days of Rockstar Energy Cola and Coca-Cola Blāk, long-since discontinued), and I enjoy these new spins on the Coke formula.

What I don’t care much for is the way they’re being advertised.

Perhaps the most frequent television ad features a woman buying a Diet Coke, then proceeding to walk down a lively street drinking it, employing the viewers to do what they want to - run a marathon, for instance - wrapping up by saying that if they want a Diet Coke, they should have one.

This seems like a regular, run-of-the-mill advertisement, pleasant enough if a bit innocuous.

At least, until you start to think about it.

This particular ad, a monologue lasting thirty seconds, says absolutely nothing of substance.

The consumer is going to do what they want anyway.

An effective advertisement would convince the viewer to try the product.

“If you want one, have one” is the same as saying “if you don’t want one, don’t have one.”

No company would think about running such an spot.

At the end of the day, it’s Coca-Cola; they don’t really need to be concerned with approving one bad advertisement.

But this spot is part of an international campaign.

The UK version is jarringly identical, just with a different actress and a different street.

Instead of focusing on their new flavours, a genuine reason for people to be interested, Coca-Cola tried to pass off common sense as insight.

No matter which horse you have in the beverage race, this is genuinely disappointing, as Coca-Cola’s marketing efforts are usually interesting and innovative, such as their Small World Machines campaign from Leo Burnett Australia.

We all know that safe ads are boring, that they don’t move the needle, and yet a lot of safe work gets created - especially online.

When The Avengers: Infinity War, the latest cultural touchstone, released last month, there was a procession of brands referencing the climax of the film on social media.

Such efforts usually serve to humanize brands - to prove that there are actual people on the other side of the screen.

However, referential advertising - really, referential anything - is and always has been exceedingly lazy, a bandwagon regurgitation that won’t make an audience any more interested in your product than if you had never posted.

Is the consumer more likely to buy from Wendy’s because they like their hamburgers, or because the brand used a meme with an excessively limited shelf life to throw shade at McDonald’s?

Both as an industry and individually, we need to be more willing to experiment.

To ignore the so-called “best” times to post our content.

To strive for the big, crazy ideas and reject the status quo.

Why not stage a public book burning to promote the HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451?

Why not film and upload fake police interviews for Stephen King’s new novel, The Outsider?

You never know how well something will do until it actually happens.

So do it.

Disrupt that day-to-day routine and make people think.

Not everything can be a success, but that’s no excuse to not try.