OK. Everybody relax. Hold that melancholic string quartet music. Turn the colour back on. The age of "for good at all cost and über alles" is almost over and things can – almost – go back to where they were before.
It might be because the realities of the market are kicking in (guys… we need to, er, sell) and/or it might be because consumers were starting to get bored of being presented with campaigns based on far-fetched, sometimes preposterous connections between good causes and brands.
Here’s the story of the blind 98-year-old man who built a puppy shelter with his own hands – brought to you by a manufacturer of luxury vacuum cleaners. Here’s an anthem piece about the struggle of divorced parents – brought to you by your favourite mayonnaise. Here’s a pledge to make the world a cleaner place – brought to you by a brand that contributed to pollute it for the past 100 years. And so on – all the way to the Pepsi/Jenner scandal.
The absurdity – and sometimes hypocrisy – of it all seems to have more recently injected some sense into marketing departments and agencies around the world. And we are seeing a shift, a change towards something that feels a lot healthier.
A first sign of this new trend was the fact that, at last year’s Cannes festival, although quite a lot of shortlisted work was still somehow in the "for good" camp, the Tourism Australia campaign won the Titanium Lion. A funny, clever, well-crafted body of work that had no intention of being purposeful, or better – it just had the simple purpose of promoting the country by using an iconic Oz property. Meanwhile, the actual "for good" category had some notable strong entries (The Palau Project, for example) where you could clearly see the honesty behind the idea and the impact it had.
Cut to more good work throughout the year that celebrated a product in an interesting way – I’d just call out Amazon Prime’s insightful work about the effect box sets have on people – and, on the other end, more meaningful and better "for good" work from a brand, such as Nike’s campaign about sponsoring an athlete with cerebral palsy.
You can see that a split is happening. On one side, it’s the return of solid product insights and good executions; on the other, it’s the realisation that brands can only, and successfully, say something purposeful when they are 100% invested in the cause they are supporting and really put their money where their mouth is.
Finally, it seems like we’re going back to a place where not everything has to have a purpose; we are allowed to once again work on good old features, USPs and brand properties. Concurrently, it feels like brands with a real point of view and an authentic positive intent have a found a better and more concrete way to express it.
It’s also reassuring to know that maybe millennials (and maybe even those who live at the periphery of this elite target group) still want brands to have purpose and still celebrate brands that support the causes they care about. But they also have a discerning brain – sometimes they just need to know what stuff to buy or even have a laugh.
Carlo Cavallone is executive creative director and partner at 72andSunny Amsterdam