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Don’t copy each other and do break the ‘rules’, WARC’s Edward Pank tells ad industry

Too many brands are mimicking their rivals’ creative efforts instead of trying to come up with something new, the managing director of WARC Asia has warned.

Edward Pank said brands needed to start thinking like challenger companies and “break the rules” of their sector rather than copying their competitors to form a “homogenous pattern”.

Speaking during the recent Mumbrella360 Asia conference about some of the best work to feature in Warc’s 2017 Asian Strategy Report, Pank used the metaphor of a “mephisto waltz” to encapsulate what marketers and their agencies needed to start avoiding.

“Two black holes caught in the gravitational pull of each other and they circle each other until they form one other black hole,” he explained. “This is an interesting metaphor for what a lot of brands are doing in their categories.

“They’re copying each other; they’re moving around each other and just forming this homogenous pattern. What brands need to do is break the rules of their category. They need to come up with some ‘blue ocean’ strategies.”

“The challenger brand mentality is useful for how brands can disrupt their category – they change the rules in their favour,” he added.

To illustrate the point, Pank cited the Unilever brand Clear Shampoo’s ‘Salute to Headgear Warriors’ campaign in Japan as an example of a brand pushing the boundaries in a “cluttered” and “low-growth” category.

Created by Japan’s third-largest agency ADK, the campaign found a niche by focusing on B2B marketing rather than just targeting particular segments of consumers.

“They worked out that various employees wear helmets, which is a hot and sweaty environment for your hair, and can cause problems for your scalp,” explained Pank. “What employers can do as a way of caring for their workforce is give them free shampoo. They reached out to employers with these kinds of workforce and drive sales. Targeting employer and making shampoo an office supply: who would have thought of that?”

During the talk, entitled ‘Lifting the lid on Asia’s best campaigns’, Pank downplayed the notion that certain brands are excused from great creativity due to being from dry sectors, such as pharmaceuticals or telecommunications.

Using the multivitamin brand Elevit’s recent campaign in China, in which the company created a heartbeat trackers to give to fathers barred from their unborn babies’ ultrasound, Pank said: “There’s no such thing as low-interest categories, only high interest campaigns.”  

He added: “Elevit increased sales by 39 per cent year-on-year. And this is in the pharma category where it is difficult to communicate with the end user. They built some wonderful, emotional content and crucially drive their business forward.”

Other brands that broke away from their ‘low interest’ status included HP Lubricants, which erected a number of ‘smart poles’ around India to alert drivers to oncoming traffic on winding or hillside roads.

Pank also cited ‘Fearless Girl’, a statue created by McCann for State Street Global Advisors, as an example of corporate brand standing out from the crowd and generating tangible results.

“This provoked a great deal of talk around the world, but what effect did it have on the business?,” he said. “Well it had a tremendous effect on the business. In the context of the third largest trade manager in the US, their trades went up by 380 per cent.

“That is quite phenomenal. All from one statue that embodies what their brand message is all about.”

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