Staff Writer
Jun 19, 2017

Live at Cannes: Five reasons we should embrace the imperfect ad

Hakuhodo seminar at Cannes reveals consumer appetite for unorthodox creativity.

On stage (from left to right) Kazuaki Hashida, creative director at Hakuhodo Kettle; Haruko Minagawa, touchpoint evangelist at Hakuhodo; and Takahiro Hosoda, senior creative director at TBWA/Hakuhodo
On stage (from left to right) Kazuaki Hashida, creative director at Hakuhodo Kettle; Haruko Minagawa, touchpoint evangelist at Hakuhodo; and Takahiro Hosoda, senior creative director at TBWA/Hakuhodo

This weekend at 2017 Cannes Lions, Hakuhodo hosted the seminar “How creativity can be inspired by food from all over the world”. Haruko Minagawa, touchpoint evangelist at Hakuhodo, set the scene: “People have an appetite for food and ideas, they’re both fundamental human desires.”

The seminar discussed how advertising efforts that previously excited consumers have become superfluous, tasteless and too perfect against the backdrop of food anecdotes. With an unthinkable amount of content available online, and an endless deluge of social media feed, they said, we are gorging on information.

By Hakuhodo’s measure, consumers are exposed to 3,000 to 4,000 brand messages in a single day, 98 percent of which are ignored. Addressing this disinterest involves a multifaceted plan of action, focusing on “imperfect” fundamental human desires that supercede the whitewashed perfection that AI, algorithms and formulaic messaging so often paint over creativity in advertising.

Limit the experience

“Just like the sizzle of a grill or a familiar aroma might pull someone into a restaurant, giving consumers just a taste of a product or service is a great way to pique interest,” said Minagawa. She posited that too often advertisers try to offer an entire experience upfront, and subsequently it leaves nothing to the imagination.

Hakuhodo offered the Nissan ProPilot campaign as an example, in which chairs stationed outside of restaurants and storefronts moved users along a queue autonomously. The campaign wasn’t about dropping people in the driver’s seat of a Nissan Altima, it instead limited the consumer experience to something fun and digestable that also left a meaningful brand impression.

Limit information

“Ever notice how high-end restaurants offer only text on their menus? That’s because they’re excellent wordsmiths,” Takahiro Hosoda, senior creative director at TBWA/Hakuhodo, explained. According to Hosoda, an image of a piping hot plate of pasta topped with rich red sauce and freshly grated cheese is rarely as enticing as reading about it and letting your imagination fill in the details.

For this same reason, AI is often unable to keep people interested in a brand. Minagawa weighed in, “There are still many ways AI can be used, but when it comes to creating ideas; when it comes to speaking to human beings, our creatives play a much more important role than AI. Technology searches for the optimal answer, it wants to give us all the information at once, it searches for efficiency. But, when it comes to effectiveness, AI isn’t our most important tool.”

Limit the senses

Minagawa also referenced the dim, recessed lighting common in most high-end restaurants. This ambiance positions the food as the centre of attention. She elaborated, “Without external distractions, people are able to focus more fully on an experience.”

In that same vein, it’s no longer enough to craft a message, you must craft an environment where that message can be heard. Asking someone to block out all their senses is a tall order, but if it can be done in a creative fashion it affords advertisers an invaluable moment of time to speak with a clear, uninterrupted voice.

Limit context and predictability

“Limiting context and predicatability is of vital importance now. When you have automaker or insurance ads popping up on social media, looking exaclty how you’d expect them to, in exactly the right context, nobody is going to watch them” said Kazuaki Hashida, creative director at Hakuhodo Kettle.

Hashida juxtaposed omakase, the Japanese custom of leaving every dining decision up to the chef, with advertising. It’s a relevant comparison: predictability is a common mistake in the overall creative direction of many ads. The chic, glossy auto ad set against the backdrop of a perfectly clean urban utopia is all too common and predictable enough for consumers not to pay attention.

Hakuhodo offered up an AIG ad spot featuring the New Zealand All Blacks national rugby union squad as a counterpoint. The video shows the 100-plus kg players tackling unsuspecting pedestrians and wrecking havoc on a typically orderly Japanese environment. The content keeps the audience on their toes, and is anything but predictable.

Limit the ideal

Hashida offered his thoughts on advertising’s current climate, “Ten years ago, when I was a young copywriter, we often talked about which ideas were interesting, great options. But now, in most conversations with clients, I’ll catch myself saying ‘this idea is right, this idea is wrong’ in terms of their digital, social, and marketing strategy.”

He went on to describe advertising’s basic purpose, to “create a desire,” something that often slips between the cracks when the creative spirit is under assault from the tyranny of perfection. Mom’s home coooking is obviously the best meal you’re going to get, even if doesn’t tote a Michelin star. Minagawa puts it best, “We want to celebrate ideas, even if they’re imperfect—that’s what makes people who they are.”

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