FIVE MINUTES WITH ROB KAVANAGH
Since April 2017, Rob Kavanagh has been the executive creative director at Oliver. His career has led him to work with brands such as IBM, Vodafone and Virgin. He expands on the ‘newsroom mentality’ and the opportunities it brings for brands
Why do you think brands should adopt a ‘newsroom mentality’ to reap long-term benefits?
There’s a need for reactive commentary in a world where news moves fast, and brands can definitely play into that. They shouldn’t exclusively focus on it, but when you build a reputation of being a commentator, it builds brand equity and recognition in a way other work couldn’t. Just look at something like Paddy Power; everyone knows Paddy Power because of its on-the-pulse, irreverent social commentary.
Having a tactical thread to your marketing, one that’s alive to opportunity, can complement a longer term strategy. A great tactical communication gets way above-average cut-through, because it has been made to entertain the audience first, rather than push product. And, in a virtuous loop, it can often be favourably covered by the very news media that triggered it in the first place.
How can businesses find a balance between ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and preserving their brand reputation?
They need to pick their battles. They have to realise that their brand voice won’t always fit a certain event or cultural movement. That’s why Gillette’s #metoo-inspired campaign underperformed; the brand has built its entire identity around ‘traditional’ masculinity. Even if Gillette’s intention was genuine, this radical turn seemed like seizing the moment just because it was there. People saw right through it. Still, it did get talked about.
What is the best (and safest) way to approach real-time engagement with social movements and current events?
You need to be as close to your client as possible. At Oliver we’re in-house, so we’re literally in their office. That means I can build up relationships that I just wouldn’t be able to create with a traditional agency relationship. You can react in real time. You can instantly gauge interest. Obviously, not all the ideas get through, but at least they get voted down quickly, instead of waiting to die for weeks.
Having that close proximity to your client is also invaluable for sign-off — there’s no assumption or misinterpretation. Especially when you’re working on something that’s in the news agenda, you can’t afford to put a step wrong.
To what extent do you think businesses and brands should spearhead cultural discussions when leveraging a moment?
A brand that’s in touch with culture knows how not to poke the bear and divide an audience (like its customers), and the best ones objectively highlight cultural moments rather than take sides. If a brand suddenly takes a hard left or right stance on an issue, it forces customers to make a decision: ‘Do I support this brand that directly opposes my beliefs?’ But commenting and observing, that shows the brand is plugged in, but empathetic. Willing to bring up challenging subjects, but without feeling self-righteous.
In our culture, any brand that starts to get a little ahead of itself in thinking it is a cultural leader soon gets smacked down, and put back in its box.
What is the best example of “newsroom mentality” you’ve seen in a brand in recent times?
I’ll go with one of ours, and one from someone else. Following the news that Article 50 was to be extended, we swiftly delivered our ‘Hard Breakfast? Soft Breakfast? No Breakfast?’ campaign for Marmite across print and social. Again, it shone because it didn’t take a stance left or right, but the brand aligned with the event. Social sentiment was 80% positive; we read the mood of the nation and empathised, without causing division.
The other example might be a bit obvious, but it’s just genius: it’s FCK by KFC. It wasn’t an apology as such, nor was it suggesting KFC had everything under control. It just conveyed how awfully FCKd the whole situation was – something everyone appreciated.