Mario Morby discusses how brands including Help for Heroes, Head & Shoulders and wagamama deployed unexpected media touchpoints to increase campaign effectiveness. 

I grew up on a diet of “choose your own adventure” books and JRPG video games. As an adult I can’t get enough of immersive theatre. And it’s because I want surprise. Not in the story, but in the storytelling. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up for a plot twist, but the stories that affect me the most are the ones that are experienced in a surprising way.

What made Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man such a powerful experience wasn’t the story itself (which was amazing) but the way it revealed itself across secret rooms, hidden corridors, discreet letters and rare one-on-one audience interactions. 

Surprise is one of our seven universal emotions1 and rare is the brief that doesn’t demand you “surprise and delight” the audience. But that element of surprise is often anchored in the messaging and creative execution, not the medium or the media.

The surprising value of unorthodox media

Depending on who you ask, somewhere between 65% and 85% of ads on YouTube are skipped2 and almost one in two people use ad blockers.3  Yet, the Zack Synder cut of Justice League is four hours long and 551 million minutes of The Queens Gambit were watched in the first three days of its release by Netflix.4 Avoiding ads isn’t an attention problem – it’s an interest one.

The degree to which we are motivated and interested in doing something like watching an ad is down to the perceived element of surprise: studies have shown that it’s the potential to experience something novel that increases our propensity to dive into something5 That means the value of unorthodox media is its ability to amplify the audience’s desire to engage with a communications idea.

If creative quality can multiply media budget, bold and surprising media can multiply engagement levels. That’s why an integrated campaign shouldn’t just be built around reach and efficiency, but the element of surprise that it produces. 

There are three ways brands can develop unorthodox channel strategies.

  1. Invent a channel

Help for Heroes is a UK-based military charity supporting wounded, injured and sick veterans, helping them live healthy, secure and independent lives.

Inconsistencies in the Ministry of Defence’s discharge process meant that over a 20-year period, 40,000 people were discharged from the army without adequate support. The charity wanted to get the nation talking about this.

So, they did something unorthodox. 

They created a medium of 40,000 toy soldiers, each featuring 3D renderings of real-life veterans, which travelled around the country. These toys became the message, the medium and the donation mechanic. They gave meaning to the charity’s purpose in a way no other channel could. And the campaign, by McCann London, generated a super impressive ROI of 4.5:1 and turned a £70k budget into £940k in donations. 

  1. Play to culture

Head & Shoulders is the world’s number one anti-dandruff shampoo, except in Indonesia. The reason? Indonesians find it difficult to pronounce Head & Shoulders. Which is a problem when 50% of your products are sold through small ‘mom-and-pop’ stores where you have to verbally ask for the product.  Its response to this resulted in Head & Shoulders toppling Clear from top spot and generating the highest market share gains in the brand’s history.

It did this by using media to build a cultural bridge with the audience in an unexpected way: by making a virtue of all the misspellings, and promoting the product using locally mispronounced variations of the name.

While TV, social and radio were key features of the campaign, it was the brand’s use of packaging that stood out. It created 300 different versions of Head & Shoulders, each branded differently as per Indonesian pronunciations. This became a story in its own right, as it was the first time in Procter & Gamble’s history that a brand could be sold with a misspelled name.

  1. Trust your instincts as much as the data.

wagamama operates in a tough and congested space. Cannibalisation, squeezed margins and category saturation means there’s no easy path to growth. Yet, against all these challenges, the From Bowl to Soul” campaign delivered an impressive revenue ROI of 10.8:1 and a profit ROI of £5.21. What drove this success was the adoption of cinema as a lead channel.  

The data tells you that cinema is great for an emotional response but the worst at delivering profit ROI,6 which is anathema to any budget holder.

There was a feeling, however, that the magic of cinema and its malleable nature would enable the campaign to positively impact a geographically diverse and scattered audience. wagamama’s extensive national footprint meant it could target and affect people in moments when they’re most likely to eat out.

It was a feeling that contradicted the science. A completely unorthodox move. A move that was vindicated in scaled tests and regional rollout. And the main reason why this campaign was a success







6. Ebiquity, Re-evaluating Media, 2018