March 18, 2016

We’re Thinking… About Taking A Punt

By Priya Sund


As horse racing fans prepare for the Cheltenham Gold Cup today, we look at the role of intuition in campaigns and why gut feeling has a crucial role in marketing

Instinct, sixth sense, intuition, a hunch – whatever you want to call it, sometimes we all rely on gut feeling. Whether it’s a flutter at Cheltenham or falling in love, sometimes – in a perfectly unquantifiable, highly unscientific way – we simply have a sense that something is right.

Our intuition is human nature; it raises our heartbeats minutes before our brains know to feel fear. It’s that initial reaction to a person or idea that often we can’t put into words. It’s the knowledge that a sculpture is a fake, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his gripping book on following your instincts: Blink. It’s that unexplained feeling that when you know, you know.

But is it something we can trust within creative industries? Well, aside from the difficulty of persuading a brand manager to part with their budget simply because you really, really believe in something, it does have merit. It’s the emotional, rather than the rational, and it is what elevates good work to having a place in our hearts.

It remains inherently unquantifiable, though. Studies from Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences have gone as far as showing that gut reaction can be trusted to make quality decisions. But even professors struggle when it comes to creating the hard data to show finely-tuned instincts.

This lack of hard data becomes an anomaly in an age of information. We are all bombarded with hundreds of facts, opinions, images, research, insights – and that’s just on the morning commute. So when should we follow gut instinct when it comes to our marketing campaigns?

The answer isn’t so simple: people are on a spectrum, with some favouring the reliability and certainty of data, and others feeling comfortable with their intuition. We can’t simply rely on one and neglect the other when it comes to creating great campaigns. But we do believe in the power of instinct; if we relied solely on tools to measure ideas and creativity then we’d lose huge swathes of brilliant work. We feel strongly (our gut feel, if you will) that if you have a deep understanding of human behaviour and why people act the way they do, your instincts are based on your knowledge and experience – and are something to pursue.

So when you know – really know – that you’ve got a good idea in hand, then use every bit of data you can lay your hands on to justify it. Because the unexpected, the genius and the offbeat so often become the campaigns that cut through the chatter, that change our perceptions of brands – and that we remember.
And if you’re having a flutter at Cheltenham today, stick a fiver on the best looking grey for us.

A couple of our favourite campaigns where gut instinct has won out:



O2’s bravery was rewarded with its #BeMoreDog campaign. The creative director of VCCP, Darren Bailes, revealed that his team was almost thrown out of O2’s headquarters when they presented the idea. But they were convinced – and persuaded O2 to run with it. The results proved that trusting your instincts and having unwavering faith in an idea pay off: the ad received 385,000 views on YouTube within its first 48 hours.


‘Get the love back’ for Cadbury’s was a brilliantly brave, single-minded brief. Fallon London’s equally brave response – based entirely on their hunch that it was a joyful idea – has rightly gone down in the advertising hall of fame. We would have loved to be in the room to watch the gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight pitch.

With the brand and agency’s instincts being spot on, the ad won every award going, has been hailed as one of the nation’s enduring favourites and is the current subject of Aldi’s spoof for its Easter advertising.


Marks & Spencer

When Unity decided to cover an entire street in clothes destined for landfill, creating a visual infographic on a scale previously unseen, it was led purely by instinct. Almost 10,000 pieces, the amount of clothing waste generated in the UK in five minutes, were hung along a London street to create the visual image to lead the Shwopping campaign.

Logistical challenges were huge: the entire build was threatened by a storm just days before, and care had to be taken not to damage buildings in the creation of a visual on this scale.

But the public response was overwhelming. The street of clothes was arresting enough to encourage people to change their shopping habits and donate an item of clothing while buying a new one. The launch campaign was seen by 50 million people, and almost 25 million clothes have now been Shwopped.


If anyone involved with the Priceless MasterCard campaign had not trusted their instincts, it would never have seen the light of day.

MasterCard decided to use consumer testing to decide the result of an agency advertising pitch. They showed two campaign ideas to the public. Priceless did badly. But everyone on the MasterCard team loved and believed in the work.

So they broke all their own rules, took on McCann Erickson and ran the campaign – which has now been running for 19 years, gathering D&AD awards along the way, with the company seeing brand value grow every year since its launch in 1997.