Trends and Innovation

Goodbye Mister Clean

Grimy, ugly, inconsistent, flaky and risky – these are the watchwords of the future, says Alex Smith of agency Sense

It’s time for marketing to get dirty. Forget the millennials. The future belongs to the post-millennials, born after 2000. And marketers need to get up to speed fast.

There was an interesting piece of research recently, shocking to ad types no doubt, revealing that Generation Z-ers don’t care about design. The media habits they’ve had to employ have left them wired differently from the rest of us, as the likes of Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Instagram et al all require you to filter through a mess of rough disposable information to unearth the jewels.

For them, grime promises rewards, whereas corporate design polish is to be viewed with suspicion – “what are they trying to sell?”. On YouTube for instance, other generations may look at someone like PewDiePie and see poor presentation, production, and content. But to Generation Z, that lack of production is a hallmark of truth.

The upshot for brand experience, and marketing in general, is getting in touch with our dirty side. We are now invited, if not to half-arse our output, at least to give it that air – to not fuss too much over detail and polish, just throw some stuff out there and see what sticks. Your likelihood of creating an ice bucket challenge is slim… but then it’s not exactly hard to give it a try, so why not?

The easiest route is to increase investment in small scale throw-away campaigns. This is a habit that many of the global mega-brands already employ, such as McDonald’s finding space in its marketing plans for such ludicrous – but brilliant – activations as the Fry Defender, a phone-based system to stop people stealing your fries.


A campaign like this, while still being reasonably produced (it is McDonald’s after all), is the Vine video of brand experience. Flippant, cheap, fast, disposable, but also spreadable: a mirror of contemporary consumption habits.

The true frontier – and one for the future – is to completely cede control of your brand to wider culture. That means campaigns conducted on the terms of raw honesty that your consumers use, with the power passed into their hands. Because they’re consumer-led, they’ll be rough and disposable. But the thing that will make them travel is their truth.

We got the ultimate glimpse of this wonderfully anarchic future a few years ago. Across American college campuses, Smirnoff Ice is held in such disdain by students that it spawned its own ironic game – Icing. The concept is that if someone presents you with a Smirnoff Ice in a creative way that results in you “stumbling across it”, you have to down it. Naturally, it gained more cultural traction than any “official” campaign ever. And to this day no one knows whether the brand was actually involved.

Connected society is ensuring that you, as a brand, cannot protect people from the true nature of what you are, and how others see you. So, you might as well use it to your advantage.

So go on, ask yourself what people really think of your brand. Would it be so bad if you were to have some fun with that? Generation Z wouldn’t think so.