Ideas and energy: Taking a different perspective

The marketing and advertising industry’s top brass have returned from a busy week of networking, events and for most, a bit of partying at Cannes. Joking aside, the event, which has been a contentious subject as agency belts are tightened, is still a brilliant opportunity to look at some of the best work created over the last year.

I was particularly pleased to see Sussex Safer Roads low budget road safety campaign ‘embrace life’, pick up a bronze lion. When D&AD blogged about this advert back in March, I loved it. It demonstrates that safety messages can be delivered in a positive emotive manner rather than always through scare tactics. I’m not the only one to feel this way either as the Facebook group ‘Embrace this’ has a growing fan base over 6,000 people and the Youtube video has almost 9.5 million views.

This week I also stumbled across VW’s brilliant fun theory project. The idea is based on the fact that there must be a more fun way to do things that are not always liked. So how do you get more people to take the stairs in the subway – you make it into a giant piano of course! Or what about how to get people to wipe their feet on the mat as they come in? Make it fun by turning it into a DJ deck with scratch noises.

Both the Sussex Safety advert and the Fun Theory project are successful and provoke a strong reaction because they disrupt what is expected. There is also an argument to be made that even the most negative people are drawn to positive representations of things. For example this week Gideon Spanier wrote his regular Evening Standard column on behavioural economics and referenced choice architecture which has essentially shown that presenting things in a different way can lead to real behaviour change.

It’s not just R&D for product development and advertising that can benefit from disruptive thinking. There is also a convincing argument that disruption in business models and strategy can also benefit your company. Just take a look at the buzz around Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus book and the various columns that have looked at how this idea may change business (e.g. Julie Myers and this discussion on WSJ). So when you’re stuck puzzling over something this week see if you can turn the problem on its head and take a different perspective.

The man with ideas for energy

When people are asked to “name a high profile entrepreneur” the usual answer is “Richard Branson” or perhaps Stelios. Maybe even Bannantyne.

But a new businessman is blazing a trail for the hottest PR profile around. Dale Vince has ideas for energy. His company Ecotricity has invested millions in green energy since its set-up in 1996, and is championing solar power and wind power in a way that is rattling the cages of the traditional energy providers. Ecotricity is now the seventh-largest retail supplier of electricity in the UK and one of the biggest builders of wind turbines. Vince, founder and owner, could be worth up to £100m.

Increasingly, Vince is creeping into the public consciousness, an anoraked, surfer-haired, wind-swept visionary for a greener, slightly less smoggy future, and he must be driving the power giants mad. Firstly there’s the copyright war with EDF over the green Union Jack. Then there’s the ongoing battle with local councils to resurrect more of his awe-inspiring wind farms.

What about the press ads challenging Sir Richard Branson to discuss his green plan for the future and lobbying government to use the money spent on fuel poverty allowances to build the Severn Barrage energy generation scheme?

What Vince demonstrates to me is the often-touted maxim that a good idea without the right execution is, well, a bit of a waste of time really.

Ecotricity is offering consumers something genuinely different – but more importantly, its founder is championing a singular, consistent message in a challenging controversial way. He’s built his brand around his persona in a direct snub to the faceless energy brands and acknowledged that a business with a personality will always be more compelling than a conglomerate with a logo – whether that logo is green or not.

It’s a lesson to us all in how to wake up and disturb a complacent market, and a case study in launching a personality brand.