We use terms like brand awareness, advocacy, earned media, impressions, PR, viral, or shareable. But what we actually mean is 'fame'.
We shy away from the 'F word' in 'serious' meetings because when we think of fame, it feels vapid. When we talk about fame, it’s hard not to think of the Kardashians or reality-TV contestants. On the other hand, when we use terms like earned media we feel like savvy communication professionals who watch TED Talks and read Fast Company.
Regardless of the euphemisms, the desire for famous work is inescapable. You can point to shrinking budgets or growing expectations. Or both. And the revolution of social media and the free-for-all we’re witnessing in journalism, but the truth is that fame has always been part of the job.
In George Lois’ book, Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent), he writes about how his ad for the little known Wall Street brokerage firm Edwards & Hanly became a favourite punchline on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1967. It’s here that he rightly professes that, “If your advertising doesn’t have the power to become a topic of conversation for everyone in the nation, you forfeit the chance for it to be famous.”
A lot has changed since 1967, but that truism has not. The desire to create the idea, that journalists write about, that mums talk about, that teenagers create memes about, has never been more important.
But here’s the thing.
Fame isn’t just an output. It’s an input. It’s an intent.
Don’t get me wrong. There is no formula for fame. No one really knows if something is going to be mind-blowingly contagious or just cute. But you can design for fame. You can seed it and feed it. You can give it a running start.
This is by no means a definitive list, but this it's a start in how to design for fame.
1. Don’t plan to objectives, plan to an ambition.
Looking back at some of the most celebrated work of 2016, it’s hard not to think that perhaps it was their ambition, not their objectives which helped catapult their fame.
And it starts with changing the question. For a long time, we’ve asked, what does success look like? But what if we started with, what do we want to be famous for? What’s our ambition?
Let’s take The Bike with MS, a humble project out of Grey Melbourne. The objective was to raise awareness and donations. The ambition was to make the symptoms famous by inflicting them on healthy people. The former is achievable, the latter invites anarchy.
Ideas, when executed to an ambition, feel like they can take on a life of their own:
- DB Export, a brewery in New Zealand, along with Colenso BBDO Auckland, is trying to save the world through beer with its “Brewtroleum”.
- The Swedish Tourist Association wanted to be the only country with its own telephone number, with “Call Sweden”.
- Burger King, with Y&R New Zealand, wanted to make the world’s most popular burger.
Objectives are goals. However, ambition is a force of energy.
2. Don’t just have a target market, have a target culture
Campaign UK had a great article last year by James Miller, the global head of strategy for Mars at BBDO Worldwide, who spoke to how fame drove the long-term success of Snickers. There was a lot to like about the article, but mostly it was the way it highlighted the importance of speaking to both a cultural and a customer tension.
Good ideas answer a customer tension. For Snickers, that’s hunger. Specifically, that “you’re not yourself when you’re hungry”. Famous ideas also speak to a cultural tension. For Snickers, that’s the tension found in the rules of the male code.
For a famous idea, the trick is to find the right cultural tension.
For many brands, tapping into a pop-culture tension is attractive, because who wouldn’t want to speak to everyone, everywhere. This is more than just borrowing equity from celebrities or being topical. This is about leading and influencing culture. And if you are a pop-culture brand with a big wallet, like Coca-Cola, Dove, or Nike, then yes, by all means address popular culture tensions. Be the brand that tries to inspire optimism, beauty or athleticism around the globe.
But if you’re not one of those brands, then target a subculture. What they don’t have in volume, they have in passion. Find a tension that targets a subculture and go all in.
If you’re a discount airline like Tigerair, embrace the subculture of the “cheap traveller” by creating an Infrequent Flyer Programme.
Speak to the culture of men, or women, to cyclists or artists. Speak to the “us versus them” tribal nature that exists in every subculture. That’s where you’ll find the diehards and the geeks who will propel your idea into the stratosphere.
3. Think diehards, not departments
The last ingredient for fame is collaboration. Plan to an ambition, find a cultural tension, and then smash together different diehards that speak to that subculture.
Yes, we can throw technologists, planners and social-media managers into the mix, but perhaps the answer for big, culture-breaking ideas isn’t going to be found solely within an agency.
Instead, make something new by mashing together the pillars of culture. The more unexpected the collaboration, the bigger the creative leap. Throw together the diehard enthusiasts, entertainers, engineers, artists, scientists and inventors, and perhaps you can create an idea that’s worth talking about.
Last year, we saw some amazing examples of unexpected and famous collaborations.
- ING created The Next Rembrandt, an idea famous for creating a new masterpiece 347 years after the artist died. This was a collaboration between art, science and data geeks to create something old and new.
- Van Gogh BNB similarly combined art and technology by creating and renting out an exact replica of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Chicago.
- If I may mention my employer again, This Bike has MS brought together neurologists and bike mechanics to put a disease in a bike.
What do you want to be famous for?
At the end of the day, it comes back to this very simple question. No matter the size of the challenge, the size of the ambition is what dictates the energy and trajectory of the idea.
Imagine how engaging every meeting would be if it started with this simple question.
How much easier it would be to judge work, to improve to work, to sell work, if everyone agreed on the ambition of the idea from the start.
Like most things in our line of work, to get the right answer, it starts with the right question.
Danish Chan is national planning director at Grey Australia. The views expressed are his own.