A bit more irresponsibility will enhance creativity

Some brands should adopt political incorrectness (again) as their tone of voice. Says opinion maker Frank Pynenburg

Frank Pynenburg will be part op Epica’s Creative Circle – with the theme ‘Will Responsibility (political correctness) Kill Creativity?’ – which will take place next Wednesday in Amsterdam. He shares his view on the theme in advance:


If you look at today’s marketing efforts, it’s fair to say that the overly pronounced brands are becoming extinct. Yes, there are some exceptions. However, more and more brands would like to claim that they are socially responsible, purpose-driven, sustainable or environmentally friendly. It seems like most of today’s brands would like to be perceived as everybody’s favorite. Staying friends with everyone is now the standard precondition. These Labradoodles no longer want to tread on consumers’ toes. That’s strange. Because if you look at what’s happening in society, there must be a market for more outspoken, accentuated and harsh brands.


(Rodrigo Dutarte, President of the Philippines, right next to the Donald)

The rise of more radical leaders such as Trump, Duterte, and Bolsonaro fits in with this wider trend of polarization. With their rise, the tone of voice is also changing. Many people feel that the current political system is losing more and more control. The perception is that their prosperity and well-being is put at risk by the government. They are anti-establishment and change must come from these outspoken political challengers.


Without any exception, these political challengers embrace a more aggressive, outspoken and explicit message and tone of voice. The principle of “we must say what we feel and feel what we say” is commonly accepted. These conceptions circulate widely and reach the very capillaries of society. 3 Years ago, who would have guessed that a leader of the free world would refer to his predecessor as, “our great African-American President” and, “the only card Hillary Clinton has is the woman’s card”. The same goes for Bolsonaro with his statements about a political opponent, saying “She doesn't deserve to be raped because she's very ugly.”


These are all quotes that nobody would have thought possible until a couple of years ago. Both leaders were democratically elected for the highest rank in their respective countries by at least half of the population.


It could be viewed as just a shallow development, however, it’s something that must be placed in a wider and broader societal context. In many countries across the world, populism and nationalism are on the rise. People are standing up against the elite and political outsiders are becoming more and more accepted.


Whether you agree with it or not, some brands should embrace political incorrectness in their messages. There’s a window of opportunity for outspoken, polarizing and harsh brands. If you look at the distribution of seats in parliaments across the world, political incorrectness has become more and more widely accepted. If you look at the macro trend in society and politics, it’s strange that not more brands have taken over the directness of today’s world.


Most advertising ideas are based on a single penetrating truth about consumers: the insight. These insights should act as credible, actionable and practical suggestions that will make a real difference for the campaign. Insights are ideas that shift understanding, are not too obvious, congruent and have endurance. This could be an aspiration, a motivation, but also a widely-accepted view on society. And this is where virgin territory can be found: political incorrectness.


Brands should reflect what’s happening in society. Based on the official poll results, it’s fair to say that a big group of consumers is not put off by the harsh tone of these political challengers. When polarization occurs in society and becomes more widely accepted, moderate voices often lose power and influence.


There’s clearly a market for explicit messages without nuances and platitudes. This does not mean that brands should embrace insults, offenses, slander, blasphemy and defamation, as displayed by some of the political challengers. But there’s clearly some fertile ground on the more outspoken end of the tone of voice axis.


Brands should speak up and also occupy more extreme standpoints. Like Benetton has done with racism in the past. Today Ryanair has the natural starting point to take a demarcated position about trade unions. Ditto for Red Bull with the anti-energy drinks movement that takes root.


An important rule in communication is that an uproar equals relevance. A noisy acrimonious quarrel at the edges will create a bigger impact than a couple of average clichés would. Don’t be afraid. You’ll either be loved or hated, but at least not overlooked in the grey middle…


If you would like to be part of Creative Circles, please contact kyra@adbusiness.amsterdam, +31-6-11303369. Tickets for Epica’s Award Show (and afterparty) can be purchased here.


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