Does radicalism work?

David Lloyd George, architect of the Welfare State and the greatest radical in British politics.

I hold something to be true. That radical thinking, particularly radical strategic thinking works. I hold something to be true. That radical thinking, particularly radical strategic thinking works.
That our job as planners is to get to the absolute root of a problem and deliver a way of thinking about the brand, category or the wider world that no one has delivered before.
That if you do this you inject into the market incendiary communications that work and work very fast.
And though I have been inappropriately dismissive of it in a previous post, the 4th Emergency Service remains the most powerful example of radical thinking in UK advertising.
But I am concerned. I am concerned that radicalism is out of favour. All the great radical thinking agencies have gone or are down on their luck and the agencies in the ascendancy like CHI, DLKW and VCCP reject radicalism in favour of more incremental thinking and creative work.
Add to that the voices off from the world of cognitive science suggesting that communications rarely work at a conscious level and things look very grim for the more radical thinkers amongst us.
So is it all over? Will we never see a 4th Emergency Service again? Or is there still a case for radicalism. I want to start to assemble an argument that puts radicalism back on the front foot and proves it works harder and faster than bland thinking.
I was given a shot in the arm in this aim from a post on Brand New about the brain rewarding us when we experience something new by delivering a dose of dopamine. Maybe there is somemthing in newness after all rather than the drip drip drip of Andrex style strategies – soft, strong and very long.
And that’s where I need your help. All contributions greatly received.

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13 Replies to “Does radicalism work?”

  1. Richard, I totally agree with you. If you look at the campaigns we still remember and saw really powerful quick results – AA, Daewoo, Saturn (in the US), Tango, even campaigns like John Smith’s and Fosters – they were born from radical strategic thinking which led to radical execution. But you’re also right in the fact that these campaigns seem old. I actually can’t really think of any new examples ,which saddens me given my job (perhaps Molson in the US counts). Maybe it’s a move to safety and metrics over bravery and fresh thinking, or the march of the new school of communications thinking of LIP that has led to this incrementalism and the rise of consistent visual iconongraphy over the breakway idea. What’s clear to me is it is incumbent on us as an industry, and planners in particular, to get radical again. The question is are we radical enough?

  2. Lloyd George was indeed radical to the establishment but his policies had mass appeal and therefore he had a mandate to ensure his success. So who do you wish to think the approach is radical?
    When there is such a volume of communication, radical messages, or a radical delivery approach can indeed be a means of being noticed. Yet radical is risky and is likely not to be acceptable to prospective clients. Can you afford to be radical when there is a highly competitive market place?
    The problem is that creativity requires both novelty and appropriateness to succeed. Something too novel and we are conditioned to run away from it (Think of our ancestor in the jungle. He sees something orange in the distance, runs away from it and survives to spawn us. The creative type who thought that the increasingly large orange blob was interesting and stood around to see what would happen next, got eaten by the tiger.)
    So radicalism must fit within the bounds of what people find acceptable.
    And what was radical yesterday is part of today’s mental frame. So investing in radical may produce a very short real return. That said, it does make for more interesting work!

  3. Brain science also demonstrates that radical communication – departing markedly from the usual or customary – is critical to getting ones message seen or heard. That being said, the marketplace has become less about radical communication and more about radical value – in experience, design, ease of use, etc. Unless you’re working with a radically improved business model, your radical communication will be looked at as mere marketing hyperbole. Today’s marketplace requires the steak AND the sizzle.

  4. I enjoyed the mock-gravitas of Richard’s post (that opening echo of the Declaration of Independence, the furrowed ‘But I am concerned.’) but isn’t it starting at the wrong end to assert that ‘radical thinking works’? I mean, you can be radical and wrong, to state the obvious. And conservative but right. It all depends on the specific problem you’re trying to solve.

  5. I am quite clear on what I want to achieve.
    Interesting thinking excites me, dull cliched thinking upsets me.
    I observe the current triumph of the latter.
    I want to build a rationale for the former.
    You content yourself with being right.
    I will continue to try and be interesting.

  6. Just a fit of pique – I have calmed down now. But I do think that planners and strategists spend too much time trying to be right and not enough time trying to be interesting. My hunch is that if you are interesting people will listen to you, enjoy what you say, think its important and buy your product. Thats what happened with the fourth emergency service. The right strategy is probably that ‘you’ve got AA friend’campaign. The interesting strategy was to position the brand in a totally different market which changed perceptions of the organisations and acted as a platform for charging a significant price premium. And that after all is what brands are for.
    sorry for the rant Sir Winston

  7. So is it important to you that the radicalism of your thinking is self-evident to people who see the advertising / marketing?
    To everyone?
    Just to experts like other planners?
    Or is it ok if it’s radical but only you (and people to whom you’ve explained it) know why or how it’s radical because the radical thinking isn’t in the words that are written on the page?
    Isn’t Pop Idol a radical solution to lower CD sales and a dodgy A&R department?
    And perhaps it could be more fun for it to work and everyone to be bamboozled as to why?

  8. I must dissagree. Radicalism doesn’t always work. You want proof, look at Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. I warn you though, what you see may sicken you.

  9. Rhet Crit Girl – interesting if random point.
    Thankyou for enligtening me about the activities of the WBC, however I fail to see the relevance of christian dogma to radical brand strategy.
    And I have to say I’m not getting very far in assembling my rationale for radicalism – you all seem content to build so so strategies for brands.
    If I might remind people – radical comes from the latin meaning root. Radicalism is the philosophy of solving problems at their root cause rather than tackling superficial symptoms.
    Most strategic thinking seeems happy to paddle in the shallow waters of superficial solution. Radical thinking gets in there and makes a decisive intervention trying to change the destiny of the brand by understanding what this takes.
    And yes Pop idol is a radical solution to declining CD sales as are the Artic Monkeys.

  10. Emotionally we can override our rational decision making process via the Limbic System – which does work at a conscious level. But to be really radical; clients need to let us get involved in their business model. Because as you said, radical = root cause, and more often than not the product/service fails to live up to that great idea and ads are simply used to gloss over the cracks. Which today – cannot be concealed as Jeff Jarvis proved.
    Secondly, we used to make people think (and work), rewarding them with great ads that stayed with the audience, but today, brand owners are obssesed with instant gratification – not wanting to create hassle for customers, refusing to be ambiguous, hoping they’ll buy the product in an instant ‘because that’s what people want’. And what’s more they think that with a strong value positioning customers can make the decision on the spot, before choosing competitiors…as it makes sense.
    Oh, you then repeat the process every 18 months…
    Can’t think of any brands that don’t do this, including Pop Idol. Yet they wonder why their margins have eroded.
    Radical thinking is the only way to create value – in everyway possible.
    PSP is radical – not only protecting brand share against next gen consoles but succesfully turning hand-held entertainment into a mass market past-time.

  11. I was just over on Polkadotholes and they were talking about just how lame Ikea’s advertising has become and that is what I mean by the death of radicalism. Ikea’s thinking and creative was legendary at St Lukes and now its pointless pap. Ditto Tango at CHI and I hate to think what will happen to Pot Noodle now it’s at Mother.

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