Will you Just Buy This Fu$&!# Thing?
There’s an oft-used term in the gargantuan theatres and performing arts studios of Sydney, London and New York City’s entertainment districts. It’s in these spaces that writers, producers and casting directors review scripts and watch endless auditions.
Take a knee to take a stand
“Every period of time has had its own set of major seismic cultural shifts,” says Matthew Rowean, partner and chief creative officer at Matte Projects, a New York City-based agency. “Brands never would have been comfortable standing for things five years ago. Now it’s flipped.”
Yes, we know exactly what you’re thinking: Nike. In 2018, the brand stood for something when it wasn’t necessarily popular to do so. By supporting NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest performances of the American national anthem when he took his knee at the beginning of matches, Nike made their controversial position clear. They even hired the athlete as a spokesperson and built a whole campaign around the line: Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. “Nike is an example of making important statements versus selling products,” says Rowean.
In 2020, Nike also joined global brands Target and Spotify in recognizing Juneteenth, the long undercelebrated American holiday that recognizes the official end of slavery in the United States, again taking a position that most other major brands had hesitated to.
The proof for such moves is in the commercial results. The creative thinking behind championing Kaepernick alone precipitated £120 million ($163 million) in earned media, a £4.4 billion ($6 billion) increase in brand value and a 31% boost in sales, not to mention increased global relevance.
“We’re in the attention economy. How do brands get relevance in this world? They need to embrace dialogue versus rhetoric,” says Charl Laubscher, founder of Love + Money, a Melbourne-based agency. “People expect an amount of conversation and transparency. What are we going to go to the mat for?”
In this moment, the fact that brands use sleek design to appeal to consumers has also had a funny knock-on effect. “We’ve grown up on Apple phones and now demand a certain level of design,” says Jono Holt, a founder at Otherway, a London-based agency. “That forces change from a commercial perspective and means there is a huge opportunity to make things better.”
And it’s in this slipstream where many of our respondents see a huge amount of hope when it comes to what we can reasonably expect creativity to do for commerciality.
When Roanne Adams, founder of New York-based RoAndCo, started her career as a designer, she says creativity was deemed “not as important as the business objectives of a brand or a company.”
“We were the vehicle to help sell the business,” says Adams. “Now I think brands have come to realise that creativity is the source of innovation,” she explains. And innovation is the foundation of differentiation and thus commercial appeal.
“When the world's doing well — when people are making money — advertising becomes a little crazier and more aspirational; it can be a bit more emotional,”