What bearing does luck have on advertising, asks Faris Yakob, who finds in a recent book - ‘Go Luck Yourself’ by Andy Nairn - a form of resilience that looks for what is possible with a rigorous examination of the situation.
Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, brands? One of the systemic problems with the cultural narrative known as meritocracy is that it has a tendency to elide the crucial role of luck in any kind of success, especially the natal luck known as privilege. Working harder or smarter is rarely enough to compensate for the inherent advantages some people get by virtue of where, when, and to whom they are born.
That said, randomness and luck aren’t quite the same thing, because randomness is an inherent part of a complex quantum universe but luck is whether or not said randomness serves you or makes you suffer. Due to this inherent subjectivity, luck can also be understood as how one reacts to, or capitalizes on, whatever hand one is dealt.
One of the most famous experiments in this interpretation of luck was created by the psychologist and magician Professor Richard Wiseman. Once described by The Scientific American as “The most interesting and innovative experimental psychologist in the world today”, (for what is a magician but an interesting, innovative psychologist with prodigious prestidigitation) his books have sold over 3 million copies worldwide.
In his most famous luck experiment, he asks a group of people to read a newspaper and count the photographs. Beforehand, the subjects had been asked whether they perceived themselves to be lucky or unlucky. With statistical robustness, the ‘lucky’ subjects were able to complete the task in seconds whereas the ‘unlucky’ took several minutes. This was because there was a large advertisement on the second page saying “Stop counting - there are 42 photographs in this newspaper”. Only the ‘lucky’ respondents had seen it, or believed it, perhaps. He doubled down, with a second large message in the latter half of the newspaper saying “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250” and again the ‘unlucky’ failed to spot it.
This is one of my wife Rosie’s favorite creativity anecdotes, possibly because she is American and inherently optimistic, but it also aligns well with Orlando Wood’s new work in Look Out, about the difference between broad-beam and narrowly focused attention. Lucky people ‘look out’ and thus aren’t blinded by the tunnel vision of goal oriented focus. They are open to opportunity. According to Wiseman (which, it has to be said, is an excellent name for an academic, nominal determinism notwithstanding), “Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, they make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, they create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and they adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”
All well and good, but how might we apply this luck to brands and effective communication? Fortunately Andy Nairn, named the best brand strategist in the UK (and one of the best in the world) by Campaign and co-founder of award winning agency Lucky Generals (there’s a theme emerging), has written a guide to just that.
Go Luck Yourself is a delightful book, which both inspired me and made me jealous as a writer. He offers up “40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour” with wit, charm, and wonderfully succinct chapters that encapsulate thesis and case study in a few pages, most of which he worked on, without any of my self-conscious verbosity. It includes a few of my favorite creativity and innovation parables, like the origin and etymology of Velcro (velvet crochet) and World War One ‘dazzle ships’, but also so many more that I had never heard of, from both history and his own experience.
In essence, his premise is the same as Wiseman’s, that we are too prone to consider the obstacles and challenges we face, declining budgets and salience, fragmented audiences and so on, and too easily forget to explore all the advantages we do have, the opportunities around us, and the fact that problems can create their own opportunities. He doesn’t seek to minimize the challenges or complexity of modern marketing, this isn’t magical thinking, it’s a form of resilience that looks for what is possible with a rigorous examination of the situation.
There are brand turnaround tales in here that pivot on non-obvious insights and strategic leaps that will reignite your love of creativity in the service of commerce. Stories of above-and-beyond customer service become the ‘Rockstar Service’ proposition and integrated campaign featuring a fictional, terrible rock band who thought they were getting celebrity treatment (not realizing Virgin Holidays treats everyone that way). It works because the idea must be true to the brand - Virgin began as a record label and is known for its focus on the customer experience - and was so successful it was exported to other parts of the Virgin Group.
Ideas that pull popular culture into the service of brand growth, such as employing The Dude from The Big Lebowski, who famously enjoyed a ‘white Russian’, to relaunch constituent liquor Kahlúa into popular culture as a cocktail, rather than the dessert ingredient is had largely become, with a cinematic release. ‘Kahlúa Productions’ led to the first sales rise in a decade. Ideas that refresh existing brand concepts for a new age, as when they remade the much loved Ridley Scott ‘Boy on a Bike' Hovis commercial from 1974 as a trip through history to the present day kitchen table. The campaign turned a declining brand associated with the past into the fastest growing grocery brand that year.
Suffice to say each of the 40 concepts will inspire you and, because he is donating all the royalties to Commercial Break, an organization that helps working class talent break into the creative industries, buying it will help inspire the next generation as well.