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Shagpile happiness: How to brief in doom and gloom

Any planner familiar with The APG knows that they go above and beyond to put on wonderfully insightful and timely events. But no one who purchased a ticket to Thursday’s ‘How to Brief in Doom and Gloom’ expected Sarah Newman to have personally asked the government to release a mini budget that would go on to set up a record breaking market crash. Quite the commitment, and one that set the scene well for such an eye-opening discussion.

Inspired by an overview of ITV’s fantastic “What Unites a Kingdom?” research, Cultural Insights Lead Lucy Crotty detailed two of the report’s most prominent themes, Dreaming Big and Everyday Magic, before a panel chaired by ITV’s director of Planning Kate Waters debated how best to bring them into our briefings.

The two areas, both rooted in a humble optimism, suggest that Britain’s thirst for positivity has 1) grown from inspiring and relatable underdog stories, and 2) finding joy in the simple realities of normal life – or “shagpile happiness” as Lucy rather eloquently put it.

Leo Burnett’s Chaka Sobhani (CCO) and Tom Sussman (Head of Planning) shared their experience of working on the McDonald’s account during Covid, and felt it important to remind planners that we don’t know it all - and frankly, nor should we. Advertising doesn’t need to provide answers in a climate where no one has any; a humbling lesson the pair learnt which went on to aid the creation of some wonderful work depicting the small moments of joy and connection that people had been missing during lockdown.

Panellist Lily Wilson (ITV’s Entertainment Commissioning Editor) echoed this thinking, admitting “we took ourselves too seriously in telly”, pointing to where ITV had previously used sadness as an angle to generate empathy in shows like BGT, and have since found success in adapted programming to the growing demand for ordinary stories with playful fun.

It seems clear that as planners, we should not be too easily swayed by grand stories of aspirational success and remember how little moments of happiness often have the largest potential to go a long way. Jon Evans (CMO at System 1) put data behind the panellists’ anecdotes, speaking of how in 2020 any ads that reflected the harshness of reality failed to resonate with audiences, and that Christmas ads that relied on the zoom format or other hallmarks of lockdown consistently scored poorly.

As the session ended and post-panel conversations drew to a close, we found ourselves left with more than just our new ITV branded flasks. We were left with a new focus. If we’re driving awareness, it should be in aid of our brand, not the latest economic crisis – that’ll get plenty of earned media on it’s own. Our job is to search for the twinkles of joy our brands can credibly cling onto and then explode them out. And that doesn’t have to mean shying away from big topics, rather finding a way that adds to the solution instead of reminding consumers of the problem. Let’s build brands with the purpose of elevating the everyday, by writing briefs that capture true beauty in the ordinary.

Thank you to everyone at the APG, and to Thursday’s panel for a brilliant and inspiring evening.

Written by Oscar Beach & Lucy Wilson, Junior Planners at Adam&EveDDB


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