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Form Follows Function

Be clear on why you’re communicating before you worry about how you do it

In 1919 Walter Gropius was appointed head honcho at the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar.

Hardly the catchiest name for a school, is it?

It’s one reason you’ve probably never heard of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar.

But you’ve heard of the Bauhaus, right?

That’s because Gropius used his appointment as Grand Poo-bah of the Grand-Ducal to not only change the way people study art and architecture forever…

He had a bit of a rebrand too.

Watching a documentary about Gropius recently it struck me how much of the most effective marketing today seems to have taken a leaf out of his Bauhaus rulebook.

You see, when it comes to art and architecture, Gropius believed form should follow function.

The same could be said for good marketing…

“We Need To Be On Social”

Here’s the problem...

In modern marketing, form too often takes precedent over function.

Marketers often take too much notice of the form other companies use to communicate, rather than thinking about the fundamental function of their own messaging.

We see someone having success on a particular social media platform, or using a particular type of advert in print or on TV and we use that as the starting point for our own marketing.

This is a mistake.

This is worrying about form before function.

It’s one reason there is so much copycat advertising out there.

It’s why you can guess it’s a car advert from the opening two seconds of the video.

It’s why you see strange promoted posts on Twitter that look like someone copy and pasted an internal memo.

It’s why you so quickly double-tap your way through the majority of adverts on Instagram stories.

You’re tired of the same thing over and over.

And I don’t blame you.

But still: I don’t believe (at least, I don’t want to believe) there are people intentionally making clichéd car adverts out there for nefarious reasons.

It’s just we’re so used to emulating form rather than truly questioning function.

We take function as a given. It’s to sell, right? But that’s far too simple an analysis.

When you dig deeper into function, when you take the time to understand why you’re communicating the message before you wonder how – that’s when the really good ideas present themselves.

An Uncommon Approach

London-based creative agency, Uncommon, are doing some great work right now by seeming to follow the Bauhaus dictum, consciously or not.

Their recent adverts for The Guardian combine traditional TV spots with social and print, as you would expect for such a well-known brand.

However, the execution on each platform is tailored. The ‘form’ is slightly different in each case, while the function remains the same.

If they had stared out thinking, “we need to do some social…” or “we need to think how this will look in print…” the work would not have been as effective.

The message would not have been as strong throughout.

Uncommon have kept the message coherent across so many different platforms because it’s blindingly obvious the campaign all started with the function.

First they figured out the why – to spread a positive message about the potential of quality journalism.

Then they wondered how – in TV spots, social and outdoor.

On the back of the Guardian ads, the agency went one step further. They were instrumental in pausing a recent episode of Britain’s Got Talent to help raise awareness about the mental health crisis we face here in the UK.

Mid-broadcast isn’t a known form for advertising. The inventive use of form in this case could only have come out of questions around the function i.e. how do we best get everyone talking about this?

During the primetime TV show, Ant and Dec went someway to undoing the great damage to advertising their Santander work has caused by encouraging a moment of silence to talk to each other about mental health.

Like the Guardian adverts, the idea is being celebrated by the advertising industry.

But far more importantly – and significantly – it has been effective in raising awareness of the issue to the general public. It got people talking. The form helped fulfil the function.

Notice there aren’t quite as many people talking about the fact Santander offer competitive mortgage rates because they serve coffee in tiny mugs.

This is because those adverts considered form first. “Let’s do some funny TV spots where Ant and Dec lark about, people like that…” is how I imagine the meeting went.

As a result, at least one person took to Twitter to threaten to stop banking with Santander.

I can’t imagine reducing the number of customers was the intended function of the advert.

Maybe Gropius was on to something.


By Glenn Fisher