And the big global award winners this year reaffirmed this fact.  

With ‘Runner 321’, Adidas managed to persuade every major marathon in the world to reserve the number 321 for a runner with Down’s Syndrome, the number representing the chromosome that causes the condition. 

Another winner, “Postponed Day”, saw a collective of NGOs in Argentina getting International Breast Cancer Day publicly postponed every day for two weeks in order to highlight the risks of postponing regular screening for breast cancer. 

Meanwhile, Dove encouraged people round the world to turn their backs on the self-esteem damaging filter on TikTok, Bold Glamour, with its celebrated #TurnYourBack campaign. 

All of these campaigns delivered in spades, but none of them required big budgets, just an inspired idea, and the iron will to make it happen.  

As economic pressures continue, ad spend is still a primary target for cuts. But a smaller budget doesn’t have to be a barrier to creating great work. In fact, when you don’t have a lot of money to work with, you’re often forced to be more inventive and examine a problem from new angles. This can make you more creative than a brand with hundreds of millions at its disposal. 

Fishing in a different pond

Attracting that elusive earned media is obviously a good way to get more bang for your buck, but you have to look at those areas that other brands are ignoring. A good acid test is if it’s something you can imagine Rob Mayhew making a TikTok about, it’s probably not worth pursuing.  

Brands had largely overlooked the Partygate furore before Butterkist - possibly because it was such an emotive topic. So, when we turned up at Downing Street with an ad van handing out popcorn on the day of the publication of the Sue Gray report, we got all the media coverage, buzz and attention for the brand we were hoping for. Sensitive handling and use of humour meant we didn’t upset anyone, except perhaps the Daily Mail.           

Simple, yet very effective. Annoying the Daily Mail, a potential bonus...                                                                                   

If you build a vivid brand world, they will come

Clearly, ideas need to be expressed in different ways across lots of different channels, so production should always be planned and considered. It’s no good making the big telly ad and considering how it will work in lower funnel comms afterwards. It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many agencies still do this. And it can be very expensive to fix. It helps if you already have a clear, distinctive brand world and everyone (client, agency, social teams) knows how the brand should behave in every channel. 

KFC’s look, feel and tone is so distinctive that it’s instantly recognisable across all channels. The brand’s wit and irreverence – and its iconic red-and-white colour scheme – is at the forefront of all its comms, from the hugely entertaining ‘Rate My KFC’ social campaign during lockdown to its recent ‘Teriyaki Burger’ TV spot with TikTok star GK Barry. No matter where, or how fleetingly, the brand shows up, you know it’s KFC.

Constraints spark creativity 

A tight budget can be a springboard for creativity, a way to dream up a completely different approach. There’s a great story about the making of Breaking Bad that illustrates this point. The creators of the show reportedly used up a lot of their series budget on a couple of very expensive episodes, so they had to find a way of economising. They decided to shoot an entire episode in one location, the meth lab, with only the two leads. The result was ‘Fly’, one of the most iconic episodes of the whole show. 

Saving money, time and tedium with AI 

AI is obviously not a replacement for human creativity, but it can boost efficiency and unburden creatives of the more tedious, time-consuming aspects of the job. As Microsoft’s John Maeda said at SXSW this year: “AI will disrupt the things that you don’t like to do.” 

Midjourney speeds up the task of visualising ideas for creatives, while ChatGPT can help with anything from storyboarding to deck presentations and pitches (though of course humans will always be required to check over and finesse the result).

Streamlining the creative development process in this way allows us to focus more on idea generation – the bit creatives love, and which adds all the value.

Rich Denney will be writing regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.