The Smartest Dumb Idea We Ever Had

Mike Ozan 01.02.20

The Smartest Dumb Idea We Ever Had

The Story of an Advertising Experiment Meant to Test The Impact of Both Intellectual Curiosity And Outdoor Advertising on Engagement and Brand Awareness.

In a “Fearless Thinking” and “put our money where our mouth is” move, TWIST funded and created a real-world integrated campaign led by a billboard series and supported by a content marketing strategy.

The goal? Demonstrate that, in a time when the average consumer is exposed to 3,000 advertising messages each day, a small campaign could break through and create brand awareness and real engagement. All while being simple and by what it didn’t tell you. The results of this experiment will probably help marketers settle an argument they are tired of having and help brands – especially those with limited dollars – leverage curiosity as a brand value with real ROI.

Advertising’s job is to create an itch. It’s the product’s job to scratch it.

As an agency we spend a lot of time in meetings with clients who fear that simple means oversimplifying (and we always hear: we’re not Apple).

We get it. Many of our clients are like the majority of small businesses where the marketing budget is like a gun with one bullet: you don’t want to miss.

Spending money on advertising and then not filling your ad with every value proposition can feel very uncomfortable.

The creative team at TWIST wanted to prove the impact that simplicity and creating the type of momentary shock and confusion that sparks actionable curiosity could have for a small brand. We rolled up our sleeves and prepared for a dose of our own medicine.


A billboard campaign with demonstrable clickthroughs?

The power of outdoor is that it impacts culture and it is part of the visual story of a place. It truly is a brand’s greatest opportunity to be a landmark. With consumers, in their cars, alone with their thoughts, it is an opportunity to give them something to think about.

Now, what do we want them to think about? As David Ogilvy said, “you can’t bore anyone into buying anything.” We need to be interesting but this experiment is also not an arts and crafts project. We wanted the data to tell us if we had created a want for a product and we also wanted it to promote TWIST.

With “simplicity” and “curiosity” as the mandatories in the creative brief for the campaign, the TWIST design team set off to create a series of billboards that would start a conversation, would disrupt the better-funded competitors and lead to brand engagement and conversation.

The team decided to focus on creating a want for what they described as “brandless” common household items (things that people need and buy everyday). In order to further stand apart and further stimulate curiosity, the names of the items are set over natural landscapes that somehow suggest a journey. We thought it was a truly unexpected mix that blended our viewers’ everyday lives and their aspirational lives. The team further sought to make the campaign a sort of mental palate cleanser, offering your mind and your eyes a peaceful rest.

We made our campaign to suggest not to demand.

Did it work? What happened?

The content part of the campaign created awareness of the board through social media. We put a survey form and an explanation of the campaign on our website. The first few days after the billboards went up were a bit quiet. We had to remind ourselves that it takes several impressions to inspire action. That rule proved true.

By the Monday following the launch, our survey form began pinging with responses to our questions. We continued to layer social content and slowly disclose more and more about the nature of the experiment.

Q: What did you think the billboard was for?

“I was simply confused but intrigued in what it was advertising.”
“I have literally no idea, that’s why I went to the website. I thought it may be a scavenger hunt-Esque campaign.”

Q: Do you like these billboards? If so why? If not why not?

“It’s nice to have a break from traditional advertisements; your billboards evoke thought.”
“Yes. They make you think of all the things you associate with words. It also reminds you what you need to buy at the store.”

Our web traffic doubled and then it quadrupled with the most trafficked page being the explanation of the campaign. Many filled out our form and nearly 75% of traffic clicked on the campaign explanation. With site traffic came inquiries. Resume submissions were up more than 50% for our open positions and many cover letters mentioned the campaign.

Q: Have you had a conversation with anyone else about this campaign? Please tell us about it.

“My sister, I sent her pictures captioned ‘what the heck is going on’ and she replied ‘what.'”
“When I got to work I asked around and others had seen Pickles. We came to the site together because we wanted to find out what it was all about.”

It worked! So what have we learned?

The biggest takeaway for TWIST was proof that consumers are smart. They can and want to figure things out and like when you challenge them.

Keep it simple, clear and suggestive. Don’t dictate and allow confusion to take hold. Curiosity is a natural and positive response to the discomfort of confusion. Companies need to express their differentiation but we would ask you to do this exercise: set your company’s differentiation in your mind and focus on it. Now, put it on a billboard.

Tough, right? Sure it is. We at TWIST have a philosophy about the type of engagement that leads to understanding of differentiation: experience and education lead to appreciation and appreciation leads to value. I can’t value your differentiation if I don’t appreciate and once I do value it, I will clearly distinguish your offering’s value from your competitor’s

Today, all brands require a deep relationship with their customers and there are no good relationships that are one-sided. Subtle suggestion though is what creates real engagement and brand engagement is where it’s at these days.

Yet, if the drive to overshare persists within your team, consider this:

No one ever got lucky by oversharing on the first date.

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