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Brands Escaping Tradition with Surrealist Marketing

In a crowded and increasingly noisy digital space, getting the attention of a targeted audience is becoming increasingly difficult. In marketing, differentiation is a key goal in an effort to set apart one brand over another. The challenge to gain attention in a highly creative and competitive field is requiring some brands to venture into the world of surrealism. In the artistic community, surrealism seeks to “unleash the creative power of the unconscious mind and challenge conventional thinking.” It is the motivation for artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Frida Kahlo who “utilize irrational juxtapositions of imagery to create a surreal narrative.” But what does a popular and successful artistic style have to do with modern marketing techniques?

It can be said that surrealism in marketing is an attempt to gain attention by breaking away from accepted and conventional rules and therefore creating extreme and sometimes shocking imagery in order to differentiate a product or service from the competition. Often the visual approach only minimally portrays attachment to the actual brand. It weighs heavily on the theory that shocking and delighting an audience will make a lasting impression, resulting in a memorable experience.

Some lifestyle and fashion brands are pioneering the surrealist approach. A recent Jacequemus campaign featured parading giant handbags in the streets of Paris, France to draw attention and create a lasting impression in the minds of witnesses. The maker and marketer of high-end women’s handbags and accessories apparently believes that a bold and dramatic demonstration is necessary to gain the attention of social media users who are overwhelmed with typical digital messaging on noisy and over-saturated platforms. This approach is not limited to expensive apparel marketers.

The Samsung Galaxy Campaign, “Just like You’ve Been There,” utilizes a surrealistic image of a footstep following journeyman. The message is left up to the viewer to determine the connection to the brand.

Cadbury’s “Flowing Chocolate” ads are a “Beautiful and Peaceful Commercial,” or so we are told. The Land Rover “Exotic Terrain Campaign” appears to do a better job of linking the off-road vehicle to travel to remote locations. Surrealist marketing can be found in cereal, alcohol, automobile, and even skydiving commercial campaigns. Surreal marketing techniques utilize imaginative and dream-like imagery to make a unique and creative visual impression on potential consumers.

Burger King’s “Moldy Whopper” campaign featured time-lapsed imagery showing the burger decomposing over a month. The purpose of the ad was to emphasize that Burger King uses only fresh, natural ingredients without artificial preservatives. According to Ben Tyson, CEO of the agency Born Social, conversations about Burger King on social channels doubled in the first 24 hours after the campaign launched. But further analysis of the surreal effort produced a bit more uncertainty about the effectiveness of the campaign on a broader and diverse audience.

It is true that one image can be worth a thousand words. That iconic truism may be at the core of why a brand would attempt to utilize surreal marketing techniques. But like so many efforts to escape normality and tradition, the ability to measure and evaluate the surrealistic marketing approach may be difficult to justify for many marketing organizations. After all, is just being boldly different in messaging enough to differentiate a brand from the competition?