In my engineering days we spent quite a bit of time digging into information theory and entropy. In very simplified terms you can say that entropy works like this: The more unlikely an event is, the more information it contains. If an event is 100% likely, it contains absolutely no information (it’s just white on white). You can compare it with the concept of contrast for example where a sudden change is unlikely and information rich.
I’m bringing this up in regards to a radio spot we did recently for our client Stena Metall. Stena Metall is a recycling company, and in our communications concept for them we always try to communicate their burning (and true) passion for recycling. They don’t collect, say, a piece of plastic off the ground because they have to or because it’s the right thing to do; instead they do it because they can’t resist that juicy piece of scrap. In reality, they behave just like that even when they come to our office – “hey, what do you do with all those used up Nespresso pods?”. So the communication concept obviously has to convey that character and passion. In that spirit we have created a concept where Stena Metall always try to recycle old advertising in their new advertising. For this particular radio spot we recycled old radiospots and re-edited them into a new one. The result was quite awesome and gave amazing results down the line (twice the target KPI in fact).
Only a few months later an almost identical spot turned up from one of Stena Metall’s competitors. At first we were stunned. How could somebody just plagiarize our spot?! But then I started thinking about this in terms of entropy. If you compare the idea of making new advertising out of old recycled advertising to, say, a radio spot using a monkey with a spanish accent obsessed by structure and order with a slightly domineering attitude towards his music loving son (which happens to be another concept from our creative team) you quickly see that the first idea can be described using fewer words (less information) than the second. And according to the laws of entropy, the first of these two spots would be much more likely to occur twice by accident than the other. It might well be that in this case, it DID occur by accident. I would have been much more prone to cry foul and plagiarism if a duplicate of the monkey spot would occur.
So is information-rich highly unlikely advertising better? I think not. I would even go as far as to say that it’s the other way around – that less information-rich and more likely advertising is often times better. I think that these are the ideas that we usually call ‘elegant’, the ones that you can describe in a single sentence, and that are thereby more portable and susceptible to word of mouth virality in the true sense of the word; the ones over which we cry “gahhhwd, why didn’t I think of that”!
This does not mean that I think that advertising should be mainstream. Hell no! These two concepts are unrelated. Mainstream can be both high entropy or low. Instead, I think that you should create character by zagging when everybody else is zigging, but do it in an elegant way, in a way where concepts are simple enough to be copied in another style while still being recognized, to be described in passing on a subway, to be shared in half a tweet; and all this while being unique by relative contrast – unique by zag!