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An Argument for Optimism

Richard Brett


Ogilvy Public Relations



An Argument for Optimism

How Good News Drives Millennial Engagement in the Fake News Era

Theme identified “Millennials are getting harder to reach”


Our knowledge and technology now enable us to live longer, healthier and wealthier lives. Yet all around us the world seems to be getting worse.

At Cannes Lions last year, Ray Kurzweil spoke about our preference for bad news. He argued that we tend to look for the bad around us, a survival legacy from our evolutionary past. Today, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of this protective bias more than ever.

We are also living in an era of fake news and a filter bubble. Many only see the views and opinions that reinforce existing beliefs, with little regard for the factual accuracy.

So, in this era of fake and bad news bias how do we engage millennials with messages and content from the organisations that we represent?

There are two opportunities:

Room for Good

Perhaps because of, and in spite of, the relentless diet of bad news, people are beginning to seek out good news:

·         A few speakers at Cannes last year claimed that global searches for “good news” are on the up. January’s Time Magazine was edited by Bill Gates; he argued that we have much to be optimistic about.

·         Start-up Goodnewspaper has found almost 1,500 backers on Kickstarter and is now four issues in. Founder Branden Harvey also has a successful blog, podcast and various social channels focusing on the good in the world.

We are also seeing a trend for joyful experiences to escape the bad:

·         The Museum of Ice Cream opened in LA last year and tickets sold out within 24 hours.

·         US agency Sagmeister and Walsh created The Happy Show – an interactive exhibition packed full of fun things to give us all joy.

·         Daniel Quercia has invented Happy Maps. Satellite navigation shows you the fastest or shortest route; Happy Maps gives you’re the most beautiful, quietest or happiest route.

Room for Emotion

In a world where we are bombarded with conflicting statistics, untruths and fake news, emotive storytelling is driving effective engagement. Numerous academic studies have found that information is more rapidly and precisely stored when it is first shown in the form of a story or an example (Sherwin, 2011). This approach and strategy is proving effective at cutting through all the digital noise.

So how do we tap into this trend for those of us in marketing? Well here are a few simple rules and examples:  

1.           Show Joy

Very simply, make people happy.

Based on the idea that colour is all about emotion, happiness optimism and calmness, Dulux embarked on a global program to change grey spaces into colourful environments. Dulux has donated 675,000 litres of paint to projects around the world, creating a groundswell of positive support globally.

2.           Show (but always resolve) Sadness

Take people on an emotional journey.

UK research company System1 measures the effectiveness of advertising every year. One of the ads they rated did exceptionally well – John Lewis’ Monty the Penguin. The film tells the story of a boy and his pet penguin Monty and takes us on a story of their relationship; through happiness, sadness and then ultimately joy. The ad contributed £8 in sales for every £1 spent on the campaign. (Source: System 1: Unlocking Profitable Growth).  

3.       Show Ordinary

Engagement for millennials is increasingly driven by the power of the real and the everyday, (Source: Ogilvy PR Futures 3). Recent successful campaigns from Gillette (Handle with Care), and Organic Valley (Real Women Report) show how businesses can drive effectiveness with everyday stories of real people.

4.           Solve a Problem

Today businesses no longer need to just have a great product or service, they need to be doing something that truly benefits society. Take Cannes 2017 PR Grand Prix winner Fearless Girl; a highly successful campaign that became part of the cultural narrative in America. Here in Australia, Ogilvy’s six Cannes Lion winning integrated campaign, AAMI SmartPlates, is another great example of a business solving a national problem to help safer learner driving.

5.       Show Diversity

Millennials are a pluralist generation and they expect diversity to permeate what they consume. 77% like ads that show real people in real situations and 61% like ads that show diverse types of families (Futurecast 2017). This trend is being reflected in behaviour. According to iStock, searches for female business executives has jumped 350% in the last three years, and searches for ‘dad changing nappies’ has also grown sevenfold during the same period.

There are watch outs for a good and joyful news strategy. It has to be substance over style. millennials expect businesses to be good corporate citizens – all companies come under scrutiny today, so if you take an issue and try and solve it, make sure your house is in order.

This is an effective strategy for reaching millennials, adopting purposeful stories and using happiness and joy is an effective way to engage, but make sure the content has depth, authenticity and is connected back to organizational values. That’s how brands matter in the eyes of millennials.