27 June 2022

Could your business say more, with less?

Expert comment
In the loud, exciting world of advertising, brands are always trying to one-up each other with the most expressive adverts.

But what happens when brands take a minimal approach to marketing?

By this we mean, why do some when brands opt to leave out logos, include little-to-no text (or ‘copy‘), or even create commercials in complete silence?

We’ve taken a close look at the trailblazing brands that step away from the conventional to connect with the public – then explain the risks and benefits involved if you’re tempted to copy them.

What’s with all the minimalism?

Minimalist marketing is a phenomenon that’s swept contemporary branding – and its affects are considerably more remarkable in our saturated market of information overload. Essentially, it’s about being intentional with how you choose to present your business, and simplicity is vital. Remember – simple doesn’t necessarily mean boring, easy, or plain. It can mean bold, confident, and assured.

Why would a brand want to take a minimal approach to their marketing? When it comes to marketing your brand, you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. You likely want to show it off, providing as much information as possible so people truly understand your vision right?

The issue many companies face when marketing their brand is assuming the more you give, the more you get.

We’re constantly being fed information, with the average person seeing up to 10,000 advertisements every single day, from phones and televisions to laptops and billboards and all that’s in between. So it takes a strong, focused campaign to stand out.

By using a single word on an otherwise-empty page, two block colours, or even silence – you set yourself apart with a direct tone that cuts through the fluff, while trusting your audience to ‘fill in the blanks’ based on your shared cultural knowledge (which, in turn, can build trust and help the audience associate themselves with the brand).

A great example is this campaign for McDonald’s in Canada by Cossette. They chopped up the brand’s iconic ‘golden arches’ to use for a series of billboard ads. The ads don’t feature either the brand’s logo or name, but the combination of colors and fonts is instantly recognizable.

Another example (on a much grander scale) is Pixar‘s 2008 film, WALL-E. The first 35 minutes are free of dialogue, and the storytelling is communicated entirely through body language, facial expressions and music.

The ultimate tease

Some brands have launched themselves or a new product with campaigns that are deliberately incomplete. These are known as ‘teaser’ campaigns, and are designed to get the audience’s attention and interest simply because they don’t include the things you’d normally expect.

Movie trailers follow a fairly standard structure:

  1. Some scene-setting (‘exposition’), where we may also learn about the primary characters
  2. A moment of peril (‘complication’) that sets up the story
  3. A hint at attempts to overcome it (‘rising actions’)
  4. An end-board where we learn the name of the film

We’re so accustomed to this structure that deviating from it can grab our attention.

This trailer for the 2008 horror-thriller Cloverfield captured huge amounts of attention and intrigue, precisely because it lacked one thing. Watch it and see if you can work it out.

Here, our exposition sets the scene (a leaving party) and introduces some key characters (especially a guy called ‘Rob’). Then the complication arrives (an unseen monster), and we see their rising action: an attempt to flee. The full film will continue the story beyond this point.

Hopefully you’ve noticed the thing that was missing: a title. Movie-goers left the cinema knowing the film was coming (and when), and that they wanted to see it, but left in the dark about what it was called.

It’s only an effective tease if more information follows: subsequent trailers and posters revealed the film’s name, but continued the tease by hiding the name (or image) of the monster. Here we learn that teaser campaigns can be enormously successful, but rely on multiple phases and therefore tend to call for a bigger budget.

Captivate your audience

The absence of something your reader expects to be present can speak louder than words (pardon the pun) – and when it comes to engaging with your audience, the first rule is captivation. A captive audience is a listening audience, and it takes a bold message to get your audience paying attention.

So how do world-leading brands take complex pieces of text and make it captivating in a marketing environment? Let’s take a look at Apple.

Their products are often complex, with important technical information essential to the product. But they don’t make this the first thing you see or hear. Instead, they opt for short, witty, and to-the-point headlines like:

Oh. So. Pro.

Light. Bright. Full of Might.

Be Seen. Be Heard.

We’re on a power chip.

These short, witty lines draw you in, selling the benefits of each product and creating a sense of intrigue before introducing the technical specifications.

Even the product descriptions on their website are direct and to-the-point, with no unnecessary jargon. It’s fast, efficient, and easy-to-understand – which is not accidental. The simplicity of the messaging subtly implies their products’ ease of use.

In a loud world, silence stands out

While Apple takes a minimal approach in their marketing, could you take things a step further with a silent approach?

Silence is an especially bold tactic: our bodies are hardwired to listen out for the human voice. For example, the shape of our ears makes them most sensitive around 1-3khz, which is the middle of the voice’s frequency range, which extends from around 125hz to 8khz. This is no coincidence – since communication is essential to our survival as a species, early humans who were attuned to this frequency range were more able to understand others, making them more likely to survive.

Studies have shown up to two-thirds of viewers don’t actively watch TV commercials – so when there’s silence, you’re much more likely to get their attention.

If you’ve experienced a silent ad, you’ll know the first thing you do is look up to check if your set is still on – because silence stands out amid the white noise of a TV in the background.

In 2019, British network ITV used this trick to raise awareness of mental health issues. It partnered with five brands to release a series of silent commercials, supported by mental health charity Mind. These ads promoted conversation, and gave viewers a moment of quiet in which to talk to family and loved ones about their mental health struggles.

Reducing translation costs

Likewise, if you’re a global brand with a worldwide client base, any collateral or campaign you create may need to be translated into different languages. This can be both time consuming and expensive, and consequently many brands opt for showing rather than telling.

Take IKEA. If you’ve ever spent a day off trying to force together some flatpack furniture with sweat pooled on the floor, you’ll know their instruction manuals use pictures rather than words. It’s universal, clear, and cost-effective – reducing costs associated with translation and multiple print runs, and helping to keep prices low.

And they’re so iconic that they can now have fun with them – including this pandemic-era, stay-at-home ‘instruction manual’ (note the 100 toilet rolls!).

As a business that reaches an international audience, their messaging must be universally understood. Language is inherently limiting, so by instead utilizing imagery, music, and even silence, IKEA is able to resonate with a global audience.

Is no sound better than bad sound?

If you’re a small independent business or start-up, you may not have the budget for a full marketing campaign or a voice artist. But a poor-quality, ‘homemade’ voiceover you’ve done yourself could have a more negative effect than forgoing one entirely.

A professional production is performed by a voice artist who understands breath control and emphasis, and is recorded and edited using professional equipment. In fact, even professionals need editing – we’ve put together this example of the unwanted, unpleasant sounds picked up by the microphone, and which we remove in the editing suite.


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So is going minimal for you?

Only you can decide for your business. But on the balance of probabilities? Maybe not.

The brands that can get away with it (as we’ve listed here) are those that practically everyone knows already. So if your brand isn’t so well-known, a minimal campaign might struggle to land.

Instead, there are plenty of other ways to get your message across, and we can help every step of the way with customised solutions suiting your brand – so whether it’s direct, to-the-point copy; world-leading voice artistry; sonic logos; or something in-between, we make sure you have exactly what you need to make your brand sing.

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