Image Source: Contagious

Earlier this month, I visited the Most Contagious event in London. Most Contagious is a yearly conference which showcases the most impactful creative work and the marketing insights. And they’re not shy about their impact. “Give us a day, we’ll give you a year”, they claim.

It’s easy to be sceptical. After all, how often do marketers make grandiose claims about events that turn out to be nothing more than tactical ideas and short-term thinking? Yet I felt comfortable that I was in good company, when I saw that they’d plastered the entrance lobby with the guiding principle: “Creativity kicks the living crap out of non-creative work”.

Not programmatic media buying. Not artificial intelligence. Not virtual reality. But it’s good old-fashioned creativity which drives profitable marketing. And the brands and agencies on the day brought it in spades:

  • Lacoste told the story of its ‘Save Our Species’ campaign, where they replaced its iconic crocodile logo for a range of polo shirts that featured endangered species, with each shirt receiving a limited print run to the number of remaining animals in the wild.
  • Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory, demonstrated the Pratfall effect throughout history and showed why brands should flaunt their flaws. Snowbird mountain used a negative review to boast about the difficulty of its slopes; and Helsinki calls its visitors ‘badasses’ for braving their freezing cold winters.
  • Libresse told the brave story of this year’s Blood Normal campaign, which garnered both vitriol and love for taking a stand against the use of blue liquid in feminine hygiene adverts.

Although the day was packed with thought-provoking campaigns, these two stories resonated with me the most:

Crises can be handled with brilliant creative

After a local journalist broke the story that KFC had run out of chicken, the story spiralled out of control across the national media. The next day, 900 of their restaurants in the UK were shut. And the foul up caused chaos across the whole business.

The marketing team were redeployed to the warehouses; the press team fielded hundreds of requests a day; and the social media team worked hard to allay the concerns of outraged chicken connoisseurs.

So, when a request came in from their agency partner to place an ad that played with their logo to spell FCK and say sorry in The Sun – they were understandably sceptical. Thankfully, they took the chance.

The fact we’re still talking about that campaign in December is a testament to the bravery of the UK business. Where other companies have issued ‘sorry-not-sorry’ responses, KFC have made goodwill between consumers and their employees. They repositioned a crisis with a light-hearted touch.

Marketers must look beyond the balance sheet

Everything seemed to be going well for Nike in London. On paper, at least. They had a healthy business, and revenue was up. But the UK team noticed something that made them feel uncomfortable.

Their customer-base was mainly made up of white, older, males who weren’t necessarily playing sport. This didn’t sit well with the London team – and was certainly not indicative of a long-term brand success.

So, they disrupted themselves in a bid to build loyalty with the next generation. After months of first-hand research and failed ideas (Stormzy Pigeon, La La London…) – the Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign was born. The campaign tapped into the unique voice and feel of what it is to be a teenager in London. And it worked, stunningly.

What Most Contagious did best was to uncover what’s below the surface of great work. It is the story behind the campaign – the calculated risks made by brands and by agencies – that we can learn the most from.