Wayne Deakin
Sep 5, 2022

Brand lessons from Mad Stars

The principal creative at Wolff Olins on what CMOs should take away from sessions at Busan’s Mad Stars 2022.

Samsung's iTest campaign
Samsung's iTest campaign

True to its name and its location in the dynamic city of Busan in South Korea, Mad Stars 2022 presented a wide and eclectic selection of creativity, innovation, energy, and talent. Like South Korea itself, Mad Stars felt like a vibrant mix of tradition and innovation.

Relevancy was a key topic at the festival and of course is even more business-critical in boardrooms across the world. Here are three key learnings from Mad Stars that should be top of mind for CEOs and CMOs.

Brands must embrace fluidity

In the post-Covid and post-digital world, our cities and how we live is vastly different from a decade ago or even two years ago. High tech materials, GPS, sensor networks like beacons, AI, and big data are all enabling architects, designers, and planners to work smarter. Also, the way we travel within cities with the likes of Grab, Kakao and Uber has meant we navigate life with a mobile firmly in hand.

How we communicate and shop are also unrecognisable, and our devices have become extensions of ourselves. This means brands now need to be much more fluid in order to live within the handheld world. If a brand is too inflexible, it’s a recipe for disaster. What’s important now is that your brand, your marketing and your content can stretch. It must be fluid and reconstruct in different ways while keeping the narrative and brand promise consistent.

Samsung ‘iTest’, which won the Grand Prix in Direct, is a great example of putting this thinking into play (literally) by allowing Apple users to test drive a Samsung brand on their Apple device. Sure, this was just a campaign idea but behind work like this lies a core principle—your brand needs to be adapting and flexing in many ways to meet with customers.

Who are you? Gen Z are leading the shift in consumer identity

No matter the country, religion, or culture the consumer is becoming a more fractured identity. I like to call it a ‘blurred identity’. Connecting and speaking with someone through marketing or content and creating a relationship is much more dynamic. Self-identity is changing—male, female, gender-neutral, or fluid. Self-identifying as non-human or as an avatar is even a thing now.

We all have versions of our identity that differs from the professional we present on LinkedIn or our social persona on Instagram or KakaoTalk. People can have at least three or four identities and if you throw the metaverse and gaming into the mix that number starts rapidly rising. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are leading this change and redefining how gender or self-identity is being recognised. Understanding this is as important for content as it is for designing a brand.

Mad Stars award winner, Cadbury’s ‘Shah Rukh Khan-my-Ad’ is a ground-breaking creative approach to hyper-personalisation. Aimed at supporting local small business owners in India impacted by the pandemic, it demonstrates the understanding that a brand has to change its voice to work in a multi-layered way. It’s not just about frequency and sameness anymore but a unified coherence, with the brand showing it gets the person it’s creating a relationship with.

Offer an open invitation for shared beliefs and values

Another big topic at Mad Stars was the rethinking of the consumer-brand relationship. Environment, transparency and purpose have been an ever-growing influence, but now they are super charged. We live in a more open world where a tweet can impact share price in an instance. This open world has meant brands need to deepen their relationships not only with their customers but their employees who now seek to work for companies that share their values.

Grand Prix winner, the ‘Unfiltered History Tour’ by Dentsu Webchutney did this with a simple pivot. A powerful digital piece that firmly spelled out VICE’s position as a truth seeker and helped strengthen its reputation as an international news network against the well-established media establishment.

Brands are less linear and top down and should offer an open invitation for shared beliefs and values to connect, co-create and co-participate.

Be more human

When we pivoted from an analogue world to a digital world, we became a speed-obsessed industry. Today, technology has levelled and equalised, and speed isn’t the primary factor to make consumers love you anymore.

UX experts are obsessed with the ‘cult of three clicks’ and have frantically been pushing their own agenda despite changing consumer behaviours, resulting in many brands seeming narrow or bland.

As brands have become increasingly streamlined, how do you stop your brand becoming uninteresting or irrelevant, or feeling the same as other brands that are using the same tech stack or ecommerce? Do you have to over-invest in paid promotion or advertising to prop up your brand’s meaning or values?

The pandemic has reformed how we see ourselves and taught us that we want to now be closer and more human—more than ever. We are hard-wired as pattern thinkers to look and seek out meaning and connections.

So, in today’s landscape, building a meaningful story into your brand is important—and it’s even more important to create relevancy in a world losing personality. Move beyond frictionless to use friction in a positive and meaningful way to help give your brand more meaning. As humans, our need to connect has become stronger than ever.


Wayne Deakins is global principal, creative at Wolff Olins.

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