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The benefits of disruption in advertising

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If Al Ries’ Positioning was probably the most influential Law of advertising in the 70s, then Jean Marie Dru’s notion of Disruption has been powerfully successful in the noughties.

His philosophy reached back to the great campaigns of VW, Nike, Apple, Heineken, among others, to look what they had in common; he realized there was always, quite literally, a before and an after – a form of change characterized by a sudden transformation in conditions.

A breakthrough, a discontinuity, a creative leap, a revolution, a “disruption.”
From this analysis, Dru distilled not just a credo, but a redo, a new way to nurture great ideas, a way of thinking, a methodology.

How to go about systematically generating big ideas? He called it Destruction and now his TBW network has adopted it worldwide. 

Active, pregnant with opportunity, with a whiff of irreverence and creativity, it carefully harvests ideas from the emotional world of anarchy and mystery.

Conventions train us to do the conventional. Accepted wisdoms, where everyone is thinking the same, usually means no one is really thinking; familiarity breeds inertia.

The word “disruption” is sometimes used in English, and in French, to describe a sudden opening of an electrical circuit.

This image is apt. Inherent to disruption is a surge of energy. It is at once both strategy and action.

The aim of the Law of Disruption is to reframe the brand so that the market sees it differently.

The brand is de-familiarised. Or re-complexified. In other words, consumers are made suddenly to see brand characteristics they had overlooked before. The result is that peoples’ interest in a brand is suddenly renewed.

In this way, as he writes, McDonald’s is know selling fast food to the fussy French, playstation is selling computer games to adults, and the US is buying Vodka that’s not Russian.

The Law of Disruption acknowledges that having achieved a great positioning, the battle is still not over.

Now attacks come all the time from competitors with new angles, and new opportunities open up in newly created spaces.

Apple’s disruption, for example, overturned the conventional notion that, for high technology products, communication must revolve around product features.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s boss, showed that a brand “is not about bytes and boxes, it’s about values.”

Brands should be verbs rather than merely nouns. Brands should stand for something instead of everything.

Too much advertising today is satisfied with maintaining the status quo, staying within common brand imagery and me-too values. This is doomed thinking.

Advertising is at its considerable best when used as a sharp weapon. So advertise to transform the business. Make ads that go for the jugular. “Be a canon at a hare hunt,” as Schopenhauer wrote.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” I wouldn’t go as far as claiming that the majority of the advertising industry is crazy, but you have to admit that too many ads out there look the same and say the same, and so just get ignored.

At TBWA, we all agree that if you’re going to go to the trouble to make advertising – and ask your clients to underwrite its considerable expense – then make sure it won’t easily be ignore.

Make sure it rewards your audience with elements of surprise and delight and the shock of recognition.

Respect people’s intelligence, their sense of adventure, and their wit. And while you’re at it, knock them on their collective ear by revealing your clients in a whole new light.

Grab unclaimed territory by showing why what your clients do is singular, extraordinary, even world-changing.

And in the process, make sure your clients enjoy the stature they deserve: prominent in the culture, famous for the particular ideal they embody, and much more prosperous as a result.

We also agree that in order to do this, you can’t simply rely on the creature’s spark of genius.

Creativity has to happen at the strategic level before the creative work begin. And what you need is BIG ideas. But how do you go about systematically generating big ideas?

We looked to the outside world for inspiration, – to history, to science, to business … We realized that the ideas that stood out from the crowd and got noticed had fundamentally changed perception.

There was a before and an after, a form of change characterized by a sudden transformation in conditions: a breakthrough, a discontinuity, a quantum leap, a revolution – a “disruption.”

And what all these ideas had in common was that they had challenged the prevailing ideas of the time.

Before Copernicus, the heavens rotated around the earth. Before Pasteur, there were no germs and so no immunization from them.

Before Ford, automobile transportation was the luxury of a few. Each disruption changed the world, and our perception of it, utterly.

We also noticed that these ideas had all been driven by a vision. Copernicus and Pasteur already had an intuitive feeling about the theories that they went on to prove.

Ford envisioned democratizing automobile transportation. They all had a sense of where they were heading.

And so Disruption, the TBWA philosophy and methodology, came into being. Admittedly, Description sounds difficult, unsettling and fundamentally frightening.

Why would anybody disrupt on purpose? The first thing to understand is that Di8ssrupstion is not about destruction.

It’s about creation – creating something dynamic to replace something that has become static.

Disruption is not just a way to come up with advertising ideas. It’s a way to think. Disruption is about systematically breaking through the barriers that shape and limit standard business approaches.

It’s about challenging conventional wisdom and imagining new possibilities. It’s about overturning the assumptions and biases that get in the way of fresh and visionary ideas.
Disruption is the art of asking better questions in order to understand the marketplace at a much deeper level of reality, and then to use this as a strategic tool.
The Disruption Methodology – A 3-step Process
We start by identifying the conventions, the unquestioned assumptions, which shape all aspects of a company and help maintain the status quo: corporate, marketing, consumer and communication conventions.

Once we’ve assessed the context, we can look at how the different facets of a brand, company or category’s activity fit together, and understand why things are as they are.

We then move on to the Disruption phase where we challenge the conventions in order to find the flaw in conventional thinking.

Conventional assumptions create giant opportunities if you’re willing to take the time to actually examine and question them.

This is the imaginative stage where we look for inspiring, refreshing and daring ideas to overturn the convention to the benefit of the company, an idea that defies market or category rules – a disruption.

Finally, we identify a Vision is more than an advertising proposition or a brand positioning, it is a total culture.

The vision becomes the destination against which all strategic and marketing decisions are measure. The disruptive ideas we come up with are a way to get to the vision as fast as possible.

What we’re doing is taking something that sometimes happens on its own and turning it into a conscious method of generating ideas.

By thinking in this way, we are able to retire low-yielding ideas and launch new, highly profitable ones.

Disruption helped make playstation the number one game brand worldwide by appealing to a previously untapped adult audience.

It demonstrated that premium vodka doesn’t have to be Russian; witness the success of the iconic brand Absolute, unknown vodka from Sweden prior to its launch in the US.

And it proved that it’s possible to love McDonald’s the company behind the brand, making France one of the fast food chain’s most profitable markets.

Disruption: A system for people Who Hate Systems
The minute you talk about methodologies, creative people get skeptical. I’m the first one to be suspicious of processes because they can be paralyzing.

We are looking for fresh, imaginative thinking, even in the analysis stages. As the owner and CEO of Lego said, “People who are curious, creative and imaginative – who have a childlike urge to learn – are best equipped to thrive in a challenging world and be the builders of our common future.”

Disruption can only be successful as a discipline if it is playful. So we have made play a discipline and our discipline playful.

Childlike thinking and naïveté are encouraged. Einstein said that one of his greatest strengths was the ability to ask childlike questions.

Disruption Workshops
The most valuable disruptions occur when we are able to work hand in hand with the client who knows the ins and outs of the company better than anyone.

This is why we have developed Disruption Workshops and we encourage all our clients to participate in them.

There is nothing more productive than finding a disruptive idea together. The client and the agency are in total agreement, avoiding the sometimes tricky task of selling an idea to a client who has not been involved in idea generation upfront.

It’s fun and rewarding exercise for both the client and the agency. Standard Bank in South Africa overhauled the entire company with a new vision and credo after participating in a Disruption Workshop.

Masterfoods launched a disruptive campaign for the Whiskas brand in the US in which cat are celebrated for being cats, not pets: “Your cat has an inner beast, feed it.”

Disruption and the Need for Constant Reinvention
Apple is a perfect example of a company that knows how to constantly reinvent itself by disrupting the status quo.

Take the introduction of Macintosh. The convention was that people should become “computer literate,” meaning that they should learn to work the way computers do.

Steve Job’s Disruption was: “Computer should be people literate, designed to work the way people do.”

The vision that computers should be at the service of mankind, and not the reverse, was inspirational and generated disruptive advertising.

For 60 seconds during the 1984 super Bowl, the famous spot entitled “1984” promised a brave new world free from the dehumanizing effects of computer technology.

“On January 24, 1984, Apple launches Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 won’t be like 1984,”

The next day, 200,000 people showed up to take a look at the Macintosh. Just six hours after the unveiling, sales reached $3.5 million.

The allusion to George Orwell’s novel made this an unforgettable commercial. The advertising approach was as revolutionary as the product itself.

With the Macintosh campaign, Apple added an advertising discontinuity to a business discontinuity.

Of course, disruptions eventually become conventions themselves. Apple’s Macintosh spurred the revolution of the PC over the monolithic mainframe.

By the 1990s, PC manufacturers had caught up by developing machines that were easier to use and cheaper. This made Apple’s user-friendly characteristic less of a discriminating factor.

Nearly 15 years later. Apple needed to disrupt again. The “Think Different” campaign featuring great creators of the 20th century who … are not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo” launched Apple’s new vision: Apple is a company that makes “tools for creative minds.”

The vision sprang from Steve Job’s Disruptive convention that the brand “is not about bytes and boxes, it’s about values.”

The disruption overturned the convention that for high technology products, communication must revolve around product features.

The “Think Different” campaign not only re-inspired computer users, it galvanized Apple employees and heralded the introduction of he iMac, the best product expression of the newfound vision: a powerful computer with an aesthetical design (and, unlike all other computers, – colorful, not being).

The iMac also declared Apple’s view of the future of computing – the floppy disk is dead.

The launch of the iMac is now considered the most successful computer introduction in Apple’s history, selling two million in one year.

“Think Different” would have been a great motto for the concept of Disruption.
Today, Apple is disrupting yet again with the introduction of iPod and the iTunes Music Store, allowing both Mac and PC users to legally download digital music.

This is one step towards Apple’s newest vision to be at the hub of the digital lifestyle. Apple’s never rests on its laurels, but always seeks to create new market spaces. Apple understands that you have to disrupt or be disrupted.

Great Brands Take stands
The nirvana we’re going for is powerful vision. We work with our clients to find the strategic ideas that change the rules in their favour.

Once you’ve done that, you can find the new path. All highly successful brands embrace a vision. They take a stand for the idea they represent.

When you have a client that represents something that is their own, it’s easy – well, a lot easier, anyway – to come up with intrusive campaigns that help those companies make great leaps.

Our goals is to make our clients famous for the ideas they stand for, fame way beyond just having a good ad campaign. We’re searching for that famous idea that can drive a company forward for many years.

Disruption is not anarchy. It is a strategically directed shake-up. It’s more than a process; it’s a way of thinking.

It’s a way to look at our client’s business and find opportunity. Disruption means viewing the world with a curious, open mind.

It means taking nothing for granted. It means being bold and brave. If you want your business to survive and prevail in a fast-changing world, you have to disrupt the world before the world disrupts you.

The point of Disruption is simple. Invent the future so that you can own the future instead of being evicted by it. Disrupt or be disrupted.

Keywords: brand, ads, advertising, disruption,


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