Delivering the unexpected

Meet Gavin Johnston, Brand Strategist

“There is a lot of garbage out there.” Anyone who has ever listened to the radio, watched TV, or picked up the phone anytime after 5pm knows that this is an undeniable truth; there is a lot of bad advertising out there. “There is a lot of research and thinking that goes into a good campaign,” says Gavin Johnston, Group Planning Director at Bernstein-Rein, a mid-size marketing firm in Kansas City, Missouri. “Otherwise you’re dealing with half-truths, and half-truths will create bad advertising.”

When Gavin entered academia as a young undergraduate, he did not think that he would ever leave it. Academics, and in particular the study of anthropology, was a passion that Gavin believed would sustain him for the rest of his career. But he was destined for a different kind of work, and after a brief detour cooking up delicacies as a professional chef, Gavin found himself cooking up strategies for marketing and design firms.

Early in his career Gavin showed an affinity for interpreting research data, and applying it in unusual, thought-provoking ways. “The question I ask myself is, how do we come up with new, strange ways to get to people more strategically?” Gavin is a bold strategist who believes in targeting outliers, expanding markets and delivering the unexpected. “You have to break away from traditional audiences and mediums.”

Not everyone is prepared to accept Gavin’s bold strategizing. “Clients are their own worst enemies. There is a lot of advertising that is just bad, because they don’t put the thought into it and start to dig. They don’t have people thinking about the motivations behind the product, they just want to get something clever.” Gavin refuses to pander, lie or target the lowest common dominator in his marketing campaigns, and while this may at times put him out of favour with his clients, he is simply unwilling to put out bad ads. “Some clients hate me, because I always tell them, ‘Look, if we don’t do this right we will lose.’”

Gavin is also more than willing to surrender certain demographics on a given campaign. “You have to accept that you’re going to lose a percentage of the population who just aren’t interested. Let them go.” This may sound controversial, but Gavin knows what he’s talking about. “I don’t have a product to sell, I can’t sell creative. What I have is a way of thinking, it is nothing tangible at the end of the day. So it is in my best interest to do a damn good job for you.” Those who are willing to follow Gavin’s lead stand to gain new demographics, provocative campaigns and a truly beloved brand. “We don’t have to have everyone love us, we need the people who love us to really love us.” As far as Gavin is concerned, this kind of thinking is the future of advertising. “I think that’s a sign that things are changing for the better.” Now that is a strategy we can all get behind.

Share your experience of signs and symbols in advertising with Gavin! Post ads you find to be meaningful and engaging to our Social Media feeds & join the conversation!

Gavin Johnston is a research professional who specializes in uncovering insights for strategic marketing and design. He has over 14 years of experience conducting global research and strategic development projects for a broad range of clients. In addition to his work he writes a blog called “anthrostrategist” and has an in depth understanding of successful brands and how they connect with their audience. Read more from him on his blog:

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