The art of the standout
Will Miles is a copywriter at London-based independent creative agency bandstand. He discusses the difficulty modern brands have in our noisy world of standing out, before explaining solutions to this issue.
Supposedly, we Brits are subjected to a dizzying 5000+ adverts and sponsored messages a day – from bus stops to targeted reels to thirty-second interruptions to a zombie shootout on The Last of Us. That’s why if there’s one thing that advertisers are obsessed with, it’s the elusive concept of standout. So how do we grab attention in a sea of sameness?
At bandstand, we’re keen connoisseurs of those unexpected visual moments that surprise and – though the word makes us queasy – disrupt.
Take Burger King’s mouldy Whopper ad, with its teal buns and fungus-furred patty. Love it, hate it, reach for a paper bag on seeing it, that rancid burger got people’s attention (in February 2020, we might add, when hygiene was increasingly front of mind). It highlighted the fast-food giant’s decision to cut mould-defying artificial preservatives. “The beauty of real food,” the copy read, “is that it gets ugly.” For a brand always looking to outdo the Golden Arches, this bold visual briefly stole the stage, giving real standout by engaging that most primal of emotions: disgust.
But standout doesn’t have to be quite so visceral, as the more edifying Marsh & Parsons’ “matching people and property” campaign testified. Its suite of witty ads brought that promise to life, pairing character portraits with smart copy, eg the older woman smoking: “Unique period property. Large working chimney.” Here, standout again came from that act of engagement, this time by inviting the audience to fill in the gaps and make the connection. The campaign didn’t showcase the product, but credited its audience’s intelligence because the brand understood them so well: ie savvy property-hunters seeking a home that embodies them.
When we devised the brand identity for Drax, we wanted to bring in illustrator Noma Bar not just because of how different this felt for the category but because of his ability to engage emotionally through visual standout on a human level. The energy industry often looks the same – similar colour palettes and either abstract imagery or vague gestures to an aspirational lifestyle. The double meanings of Bar’s illustrations allowed us to hook our audience in and reveal something about the Drax offering itself. And that paid off, with 70% of the audience saying they were more likely to consider Drax for their energy supply needs.
Standout, of course, doesn’t have to be all about imagery. Copy on its own can pack a punch. The Economist’s ads always engage because they know precisely whom they are appealing to: intellectually curious people who – just maybe – reckon they’re a cut smarter than the average consumer. With its bold white-on-red type, the copy employs either word play (“In opinion polls, 100% of Economist readers had one.”) or witty observations (“I never read The Economist.” Management trainee, aged 42.”)
Truly standing out from those 5000 ads isn’t down to gimmicks. It’s about knowing who your audience is, what their needs are and, whether through disgust or clever wordplay or intriguing visuals, devising something that will tap into their emotions and truly reel them in.