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How Three Billboards demonstrates the power of ‘fame media’

Date: February 20, 2018

The use of a personal message in a public space proves to be a powerful way to deliver messages while also transforming the opinions of society at large.


This Sunday (18 February), Joanna Lumley, the new host of the BAFTA Film Awards after Stephen Fry stepped aside, will reveal the 2018 winners – and the team behind the stunning ‘Three Billboards In Ebbing, Missouri’ will discover if it has won best film, and the fantastic Frances McDormand: best actress.

It’s up against stiff competition, with Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘The Shape Of Water’ leading the way with a huge 12 nominations.

Whatever the result though, there is no doubt about the devastating effectiveness of McDormand’s character’s media strategy as a central part of the plot.

Facing silence from the police some seven months after her daughter was brutally raped then burned to death, Mildred Hayes (McDormand) decides not on an email campaign, but turns her sights outdoors in a steely bid to try and get some answers.

She spends $5,000 renting three battered billboards on a rarely used road outside of Ebbing, Missouri. On the first, in huge letters, it says: “Raped while dying”. The second: “And still no arrests” and the third: “How come, Chief Willoughby?”

The use of a personal message in a public space proves to be a powerful way to deliver her message while also transforming the opinions of society at large – and starts setting the news agenda on the local TV station too.

In real life, we have seen great work along these lines from brands like The Economist in the past and Spotify recently where they have used this very tactic: directing a message at an individual or a tiny audience with the intention that is deliberately overheard by others who are the key target of the hit.

Suddenly the brand openly comes out from the shadows and enters the national conversation – which is unlikely to happen with an email campaign or a load of tweets.

Meanwhile this month, mobile brand Giffgaff confessed that it hadn’t been possible to make their brand famous using online channels alone, with their head of advertising Abi Pearl claiming “Online ads don’t make a brand famous”.

Talking at the Big TV Fest, she explained: “Back then we thought we didn’t need TV and that we could just make content that would go viral and make us famous,” Pearl said. “That didn’t happen at all. We were wrong.”

Pearl says that now, rather than being “anti-TV”, GiffGaff focuses mostly on TV, online video or outdoors rather than on “hard to justify” platforms that lack sufficient metrics.

As media and messaging become ever more personalised, it is reassuring that the industry is eradicating wastage from our media spends. But the truth is, while personalised media may score top marks for individual relevance it struggles to score on the fame stakes.

Making a decision to buy isn’t as simple as seeing a product message that fits your needs and a price that’s right. Oh, if only things were that easy!

Human beings have a strong herd mentality, as human behaviourist and author of ‘Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature’ Mark Earls always reminds us. People buy brands that others around them approve of and admire.

Broadcast media, like TV and outdoor, are dogged by the idea that because lots of apparently irrelevant people see the ads, that spend is being wasted.

Of course the reverse is true. TV advertisers only buy the audience they seek. The fact that lots of other people are carried along with their advertising is a pure bonus.

But more than this, the use of great creative designed for fame building ensures a brand stands out and lives for many years in the minds of customers now, and customers to be.

Perhaps we should stop calling these media “traditional” media and rebrand them “fame” media.

Both Giffgaff and Three Billboards’ Mildred Hayes would appear to agree.

via 2018 CityAM


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