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By Kevan Barber, Associate Insight & Creative Director

That was the theme of this year’s MAD//Fest. You’ll be pleased to hear that the massive entrance queues that blighted 2023 were very much left in the past, thankfully. So, finding my way to the Creativity Stage for the start of the first day, here are some key moments that stood out around the theme of boldness in marketing.

Category conventions are there to be broken

This came up again and again – category conventions make it so easy to coast, and so difficult to stand out.

This was brought to life in particular by Gary Raucher from ASICS who spoke of the two main directions the sports and fitness category sticks with. One focuses on winning, while the other focuses on effort, shown through blood, sweat and tears. For ASICS the key to standing out was to revert to the original meaning of the brand’s name ‘a sound mind, in a sound body’. This has led to rethinking a personal best as a feeling, not a number and its much-heralded before and after campaign capturing the mental uplift, not weight loss, that comes from getting active.

You’ve got to feel something

Why else do we get up in the morning? Feeling something was mentioned by multiple speakers – and good work will inevitably evoke a feeling. That feeling might be one of trepidation or nerves, but it can equally be a feeling that something’s funny, or it’s powerful, thought-provoking or emotional. How do we expect people consuming campaigns or content to feel something if we feel nothing?

Part of this feeling is also getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable, as Rory McEntee from Gymbox mentioned as one of his five key pointers towards bolder marketing. That tension is vital in delivering work that’s interesting and ultimately leads to your end audience feeling something.

Embrace risk

What’s the worst that’ll happen? I know, I know, you might lose the account, lose your job, offend masses of people. But this is about taking risks under the right conditions. 

And taking a risk doesn’t have to mean being offensive, as Rory said, the best disruptive work doesn’t offend, but it might feel uncomfortable at first. The brand has done a few things that have straddled that line, but others like the post-Covid billboards mentioning Joe Wicks were a risk in that they didn’t ask for Joe’s permission, but a risk worth taking when the nation’s fitness instructor replied to the campaign favourably.

Creative territories that stick

At Launch we focus a lot on defining and carving out a creative territory that can be activated in different ways across the long term. This was something highlighted by Firdaous El Honsali from Dove. We all know the brand’s campaign for Real Beauty, a creative territory Dove has activated against since 2004. This started from the insight that just 2% of women considered themselves as beautiful. This is the basis for the clear brief enabling Dove to globally activate within that territory time and time again.

And the same was true for ASICS. As mentioned, it’s gone back to its roots with a focus on the mind, and with this there’s a brief they can answer year after year, differentiating from the category, but through creative that has a red thread connecting it each time.

Whilst Gymbox had a slightly different approach where it has a creative activation it can roll out consistently, special edition classes. From Human Weights, to Brexfit, it’s a tried and tested route that’s been working for the brand for 15 years now.

This is an approach we’ve also seen from Airbnb over the years, where there’s a way of activating that works, and it is then applied to different moments and in response to the news agenda.

These takeaways come from just a few early sessions of MAD//Fest, but the messages are clear – try bold things, embrace the feeling, and get back up if you get knocked down. Why not?

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