All of us love ideas that are outrageously unconventional — though probably not the first time we hear them. This initial resistance comes from the fact that they often are not in line with our belief systems. That being said, if the ideas are truly brilliant, we eventually look past our differences and celebrate the ones that challenge the way we see things. And to me, that’s the essence of contrarian thinking. Wondering what got me onto this line of thought?
Well, a few months ago, team members from my branding agency visited Kyoorius Design Yatra in Goa, a platform that brings popular artists, graphic designers, architects, advertisers, and visual communication experts together under one roof, every year. Contrarian thinking was this year’s theme, and in line with the same, they invited a number of designers who didn’t just think out of the box — they worked as though a box didn’t even exist. This got me thinking about what it feels like to pursue ideas that are against popular consensus — especially in marketing. Sure, the likelihood of failure is higher but as a marketer, trying out something that’s out of the ordinary is what keeps my creative juices flowing!
Still not sure what I mean? Here’s a simple example. For years, brands have been told to put their customers first — or some variation of the same. Customer is always right. Customer is king, and so on. What if someone were to flip the script and ask brands to put their employees first, which would in turn result in happy customers. This would definitely grab your attention right? Of course it would — it goes against everything the dominant narrative has been telling you.
Now, here’s an instance of a real life brand that thought differently, took a risk, and made an important point. A popular American outdoor clothing brand released an impactful print advertisement in the New York Times a few years ago. With an item of clothing placed front-and-center, the visual copy simply said — ‘Don’t buy this jacket.’ Definitely not what a brand that aims to sell clothing should say, right? Well, they thought differently. The ad tackled consumerism head on, listing the environmental impact the production of this one jacket had. You’d think this would impact sales negatively, but no — the company raked in ten million in sales that year on promising that the proceeds would go to environmental groups.
So, why did this work? It went completely against the status quo. It was contrarian and encouraged readers to re-evaluate their spending habits during the holiday season. The unfortunate truth though, is that today, we live in a conformist world. And while a unique approach can create a buzz, it may not always help achieve the brand’s marketing objectives. So before you head into choppy waters, it’s always good to be prepared. Ask yourself: Do you have a unique perspective and does it have a leg to stand on? Will it resonate with your target audience? Will it start a conversation?
Once you have your answers, you’ll be ready to stir the pot — all you need is a little bit of luck!