Cannes Lions 2019 : Ugly is Trending
Believe it or not, it took me a while to make the cover photo of this article look like my own version of ugly. We almost never really think: ‘how do I make this look uglier?’ Its a strange thought but its gripping the world of advertising especially with Gen Z trends and platforms like Tik Tok, that thrive on the ‘real’. In fact, the trend is catching on to other platforms like Youtube and Instagram stories. Have a look at this hilarious video, for example, of a kid screaming the Universal title track and getting 6.8 Million views on it:
One of the major themes of Cannes Lions 2019 was relatability and ‘realness’. The concept of ugliness is very closely linked to this. People trust real things and feelings and anything that is too polished is labelled as ‘fake’ or ‘overly perfect’. According to Tim Leakes, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer of RPA (a leading advertising agency in USA), people like ‘ugly’ and ‘random’ as a reaction to over-perfection. Also, the idea of ‘ugly’ is being normalised with platforms like Tiktok.
Even on Youtube, content creator thumbnails for example are usually ugly-looking and they perform much better organically than the polished ads that brands take out. In fact, the trend has caught on so much that there are Youtube tutorials to teach people how to achieve the desired ugly look. The thumbnails below are real ones I picked up from Youtube.
The point, thus, is that brands need to make their ads look less polished and more natural and real, especially on digital platforms. Matt Levin – Co-founder and CEO, Donut Media found out that there is no correlation between production value (of commercials) and brand engagement. In an animated discussion during the festival, the Global Marketing Head of TikTok, Stefan Heinrich, talked about how people appreciate real talk now. ‘Nobody talks in real life like commercials do. That is how TikTok has positioned itself so well in the market. The fact that everything on TikTok is so authentic and real builds an important case for brands’.
Old Spice took this trend seriously and made a very real meme-looking ad, and managed to get 6.7 Million views on this. Imagine pitching this ad to your clients! Watch below and don’t forget to have a look at the comments on the original video.
Brands are following suit, like Gucci with its campaign – authentic beauty lies in imperfection. For marketers and advertisers, this is good news because it means lower costs and production budgets while also resonating with the audience. According to Heinrich, unpolished makes people happier because ‘it lowers the bar for yourself. It’s more relatable. It lets you love yourself for yourself’.
What does this mean for brands in Pakistan? It goes without saying that over-branding is definitely over-kill. Perhaps, as marketers we need to focus more on situational marketing in terms of the platforms we are on. Its better to be in the channel rather than on the channel. When you are in a channel, its important as a brand to act like the channel behaves. We can now be more flexible with our production quality on digital platforms, focus more on content, story and performance while continuing to make polished and good-looking ads for TV. Best of both worlds, isn’t it?
In the end, I would like to put up a screenshot from a talk that I attended called ‘Ugly Sells’ by Tim Leake. Behold!
Brand Manager - HBLWinner - Young Marketers Pakistan Competition for Cannes Lion 2019