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Challenging expectations has almost become a convention in itself, as status-quo-defying ideas are being demanded in more briefs than ever. Repositioning has become a means of survival for brands in a constant competition for cut-through, which is largely a result of people’s attention becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain. With opt-outs, subscriptions, adblockers and channel proliferation on the rise, people are not only harder to find, we can no longer just buy them – we need to earn them.


At the same time, consumers are either completely saturated with content or are being guarded by platforms curating, digesting and customising it, essentially hoarding all the attention. We need to find ways to reach new audiences or reinvigorate those audiences that are looking elsewhere. With people becoming even less forgiving of brands, the biggest question is: what are the right levers to push that will work?

Change what people expect


You need to know the codes of the category if you want to break them. And if you’re bold enough, you can even reinvent them. Pond’s Men brilliantly reversed a sinking category that didn’t excite or interest its target audience. Indonesian men didn’t care about face wash, but they did care about oily skin. So instead of tackling each of the facial cleansing commercial clichés you’d expect, Pond’s Men created an entirely new dialogue for the brand around the social jeopardy of skincare neglect. The result was not just a play on the category conventions, but a new format with empathetic humor at its core that’s getting men in Indonesia talking about skin care, because they never have before. Pond’s Men showed that its products are far more than mere cleansers – they are insurance for life’s most dreaded, awkward moments – by getting everyone to experience that moment in the most cringe-worthy yet strangely compelling commercial.

Be relevant to be in culture


Guinness Singapore created new context by changing the conversation from a global message of celebrating St Patrick into a more locally relevant one that mattered to a more diverse crowd. The brand faced the challenge that as stout, it was not only up against crisper and lighter alternatives, but also had little existing presence and awareness locally. Persuading Singapore to see Guinness as more than an expat beer by leveraging the Irish celebration of St Patrick’s Day might not make sense given that most local Singaporeans don’t actually know or care about it. Instead, Guinness decided to celebrate all Pats in Singapore and make Guinness relevant to them and everyone they know. This didn’t just change what people thought about Guinness; it changed the people thinking about Guinness in the first place. The genius of this approach was finding a way to make the brand relevant to Singaporeans on their terms (their name) and create a new culture around the stout. Being part of culture is the holy grail of all brands. But what that really means is: just be relevant. And then you find yourself in culture.

Create an emotional connection


Income was able to drive reappraisal of life insurance by connecting people to what they care about. Some 84% of Singaporeans are concerned about retirement, but only 55% have planned for it financially. While numbers may help to reframe an issue, they don’t always change how we respond to it. To increase life insurance sales, Income had to make those numbers intimate, which can sometimes mean being a little intrusive. Should your child be your retirement plan? That’s a provocation – and a highly personal one, whether you’re a parent or a child. Income changed the meaning of filial piety and what it means to take care of one’s parents. Delivered with sincerity and honesty, Income carved out a place in the heart of many Singaporean families with a powerful local insight that disrupted tradition and gave people permission to look at retirement plans in a new way.

What you do is as important as what you say


Everything brands do is part of your communications. Disruption isn’t about intention; it’s creating behaviour change, not just a perception shift. Ideas are now measured in their execution. And today that means following through and living that promise or positioning in places that make it real and tangible.


Be authentic and true to your brand and vision


For brands trying to reframe a product, making sure you stay true to your roots is as important as being recognised. You need to make sure that creating cut-through doesn’t compromise the brand’s credibility. With markets and competitors changing so fast, it’s crucial to make sure our brands have a consistent point of reference. This is about knowing who you are and what you stand for, as well as making sure that this is what is navigating your brand first and foremost. Changing the frame of reference for brands and their products enables us to unlock new opportunities for growth because we can uncover people that would never have considered them before. More importantly, it moves us from focusing on how to gain share of an existing category to resizing an entirely new market. Disruption at its best.

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