In advertising, naughty can be oh so good

I don’t think there is anything more deliciously indulgent than a little morsel of marketing sedition. After all, being subversive is what got most of us into this bonkers business to begin with, no?

That headstrong, cavalier, black sheepishness that alienated us from the flock and steered us toward an industry that academics trivialize, family and friends misunderstand, the public mostly distrusts, and the rest of the business world often categorizes as a necessary evil, at best.

“Oh. You work in advertising. How interesting,” is the typically tempered cocktail party response when interrogated by delegates from other, more conventional vocations.

But it’s that estrangement that drives us into work every morning. Or at least to the makeshift cubicle at the dining room table.

And that drive isn’t about garnering acceptance, it’s about proving all the bastard naysayers wrong. Demonstrating that advertising does work, goddammit! Because we literally need to prove that invaluable value to the rest of humanity every single waking day.

So, when an opportunity for marketing subterfuge presents itself and the client not only agrees to it, but champions it, the mutineer maverick in us begins drooling at the bit.

While at BBDO, we were lucky enough to find just such a brother in arms with our client at The Globe and Mail. It was the beginning of the great Canadian newspaper wars when Conrad Black launched his National Post in a bid to dethrone Canada’s “Old Grey Lady.”

In the year that followed, we giddily committed countless acts of marketing sedition that led to break-of-dawn boardroom showdowns with broadcast executives who wanted to put a warning on our commercials, as well as fighting cease and desist orders from one of the world’s biggest pharma companies.

But all of it, of course, was ultimately aimed at wiping that smarmy grin off Lord Conrad’s mug. For instance, in a deliberate barb to suggest that Globe reporters were much quicker to the scoop than those at the Post, we purchased a billboard at the entrance to his Bridal Path neighbourhood with a visual of The Globe and Mail masthead and the acidic headline: “Find Out What’s in Tomorrow’s Post.”

Of course, such insurgent stratagem is more often enlisted by slingshot wielding David’s trying to take down behemoth brand Goliaths.

As is the case with this week’s new creative from an aptly named smartphone reseller brand called Back Market, and a brilliant covert-ops campaign pulled off recently across Europe.

Back Market is surfing the perfect storm of tapping into the consumer’s disdain and distrust for hyperinflated iPhone prices, and the growing “upcycling” sustainability movement being embraced the world over.

And to bring blindsiding attention to both, Back Market infiltrated Apple where it least expected: Its stores. Using airdrop and Trojan horsing its way into sacredly vaunted Apple sanctuaries and hacking display iPhones right under the noses of all those superior feeling geeks at the Genius Bar. Awesome.

Now, the more sobering strategic voices of reason in the agency boardroom will remind us all to be careful about poking the bear, and being wise to what we might wish for. Especially if the bear has bottomless, fur-lined pockets like Apple and Mr. Conrad Black.

But aren’t marketing feats of naughty like these just too scrumptiously delicious to abscond, bear be dammed? Oh my. Indeed they are.

Craig Redmond