Brand Strategy Agency Advice Agencies

Should ads follow trends and tropes, or is it simply lazy creative?


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

April 25, 2024 | 15 min read

Agencies share their thoughts on when a brand should choose to follow a popular trend or trope with their advertising and what they should consider before jumping on a creative bandwagon.

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig shows off his dance moves for Belvedere Vodka

You may have noticed that there is a lot of dancing in ads right now. Dancing is in vogue as people, sometimes celebrities, jig around with joy to promote products and services from brands in sectors as diverse as car insurance, fashion, alcohol, sports equipment and much more.

But is it too much already? Is it too easy for agencies and brands just to follow these advertising tropes? Sir John Hegarty has even suggested in an opinion article in The Drum that following tropes like this simply demonstrates a lack of creativity.

We ask agencies when it’s right to follow an advertising trope like dancing and what factors an agency should consider before potentially murdering a brand on the dance floor.

Smart brands are trendsetters, not followers

Alice Schaffer, strategy partner, Leagas Delaney: “If a brand or agency is starting with the objective of creating a dancing ad, or following any other creative trope, they are starting with the wrong objective. All brands want to be distinctive and have their advertising stand out (at least, they should), so why begin with the ambition of jumping on a rolling bandwagon? Find a way for your brand to tap into culture, yes. But don’t be lazy. Do the groundwork. What is your brand known for? What makes it distinctive? What does your audience care about that’s relevant to your brand or the needs it meets? Start from a position of deep brand understanding and audience perception. Bring your insight to life in a way that’s impactful and well-branded. Advertising that touches a nerve and stands the test of time is usually different from its peers – it starts the trend, it doesn’t follow it.”

Jeff Rosenblum, co-CEO, Questus: “It’s a terrible idea for most brands to follow every social media trend. Great brands are leaders, not followers. They have a clear identity and consistently communicate what they stand for and what they believe in. Using every goofy social media trend is following, not leading. It’s absolutely critical to not exclusively focus on the engagement of individual social posts but rather on the overall power of the brand story. When brands become followers and desperately seek quick boosts to their engagement, their stories become undifferentiated and inconsistent. Ultimately, this crushes a corporation’s most valuable asset, which is brand equity.”

Ivy Escopete, senior strategy consultant, Cheil UK: “Brands that jump on viral dances or memes see it as an opportunity to quickly and easily gain impressions, without thinking about what kind of impression they want to give. Recently, a whole raft of professional services firms have posted TikToks of their employees doing dances or copying viral voice-overs in an attempt to appear relatable to the wider population. Instead, they gave off a slightly inauthentic feeling. In this social economy, people catch on to phony and insincere marketing quickly. Brands need to ask themselves if jumping on to this trend is an authentic way of participating in that culture and community and if this behavior is already part of their brand strategy. If you’re just creating an ad to seem trendy, you’ll probably fail, but if it’s part of an ongoing behavior, it will probably be a success.”

Stevie Rowing-Parker, creative director, Iris: “At Iris, we use a brand’s distinctive character to help it stand out in a sea of sameness. So, my question would be, why are we considering a trope? How about we do something that’s in the exact opposite direction? What would that look like? That’s a more interesting starting point than ‘Shall we jump on this dancing ad bandwagon?’ If we found ourselves back at ‘Let’s do a dancing ad,’ my next question would be, ‘Does it give you the ick?’ Daniel Craig’s moves in the Belvedere ad don’t give me the ick because it feels right for the brand and they’ve gone for it. My last question to ponder would be, does dancing make the idea better? Or are we dancing because we don’t have an idea?”

Trevor Williams, principal/executive creative director, Young & Laramore: “Trends are timely. So the first question an agency and brand need to consider is how close to the front end of this thing are you? Because once it feels like a trend, well, you’re too late. The real question is whether a trend is relevant to the brand. Or is this just jumping on a bandwagon in an attempt to look relevant? What an uninspiring way to work and completely counterintuitive to what we do as creative people.”

Following a trope is lazy creative

Steve O’Connell, co-CCO, RTO+P: “Tropes are crutches. Sure, they can help you get around. But you won’t be graceful or as effective as you would without them. A primary goal of every ad will always be to stand out and be remembered. And it’s rare to do that when you’re leaning on something that feels familiar. Of course, I get the temptation to lean on tropes and trends, especially for clients for whom creativity is often still a mystery. It’s easy to think that if everyone is doing it, there must be something to it. But the most impactful work is always done when an insightful idea is brought to life through a fresh execution. And putting something in your ad just because it’s popping off on TikTok is cheating the process. At best, the audience forgets it. At worst, they mentally kick the crutch out from under you.”

Nicky Vita, head of strategy, Atomic London: “Anyone who knows me well knows I am a huge fan of shaking my tail feathers. But in advertising, it’s become a lazy trend. There are, of course, many stand-out examples: Kenzo World, Burberry Festive, the classic Axe Effect Dance and Apple’s FKA Twigs are all brilliant campaigns where dancing was integral to communicating the brand’s message. Yet, as an industry, it does feel that we’ve become complacent. People see so many ads right now, and we all know that standing out means being distinctive and faithful to both brand and human truth. So, I implore the industry to please forget the dancing. Actual humans are long over it, and we should be too.”

Sharissa Chan, director of strategy, Plan C Agency: “The dance trend in ads is fun and engaging, but as an Asian American agency built on authenticity, we urge the industry to take a deeper look before following every trope. Trends without a strategic tie to the brand can feel forced and miss the mark. We recommend that brands ask themselves if dance fits their DNA and whether it will resonate with the target consumer. If so, consider ways to make it fresh and interesting by telling a unique story that will stand out in the crowd. By prioritizing authenticity and strategic trend application, we can create ads that people connect with, the kind that build trust and make a lasting impression.”

It’s all in the timing

Steve Bowen, creative director, PPK: “Jumping on a trend is fine as long as you’re able to execute in a timely manner and be part of the moment. You don’t want to be the brand that is late to the party and looks like they’re copying everyone else. It’s important to be mindful of where the trend is in its life cycle and put it against whatever timeline you’re working from. That’s usually a good starting point for whether something is feasible or even worth attempting. And I think it’s equally important for everyone involved to be nimble when working on any trend-based project. Trends come and go so fast nowadays that the window of opportunity to be part of the moment becomes smaller and smaller.”

Katherine Schmidt, associate creative director, Hanson Dodge: “Jumping on a trend can be a great way to capitalize on a conversation that’s already happening, but brands should first question whether it will authentically amplify their message and resonate with their core audiences. Consumers are pretty adept at sniffing out disingenuous content – and engaging with a trend solely for cultural relevance can quickly feel like bandwagoning. If following a particular trend does make sense for the brand, it’s time to move fast and identify if there is an opportunity to stand out by using it in a new – or better – way than everyone else.”

Erin Simle, head of production at PXP: “Great creativity is a well-executed insight. Jumping on trends does not replace a good idea. While dancing can bring joy, excitement, and comedy (especially when done poorly), it must fit within the broad context of the idea. If it doesn’t, it’s likely a half-hearted attempt to ride a wave that’s already rolling.”

Gavin Finney, creative director, Maverick Media: “The first question to ask is the same as it would be for any trend: is this actually relevant to the brand, the product and the audience? Or is it the tail wagging the dog? Too often, we can reverse into trends by starting with the execution – in this case, dancing – and then attempting to connect the brand in a meaningful way. The problem is that audiences are increasingly savvy as to whether something’s genuine. Big brand advertising is all about feelings, not the rational, and what better expression of happiness and abandon than dancing? Combine that with nice threads, an enviable location, some hot talent and a cool track and maybe you’re not a million miles away.”

Ndubuisi Uchea, CEO & co-founder, Word on the Curb: “So how should brands know when to jump on the wagon or keep a wide birth? Firstly, cultural capital – does the brand have an existing experience when playing to trends? Secondly, equity and history – does the brand understand the history of the trend and who the pioneer behind it was/is? Is it celebrating or paying homage to the individuals behind it? Thirdly, research and insight – does its customer base want it to be playing into trends or is their engagement with the brand purely on a product level? Finally, what is the intention behind jumping on trends? Is it simply adding to the noise?

Alistair Schoonmaker, co-founder and managing director, Ultra Brand Studio: “Why would you do something just because it is ‘trendy’? Why would you want to do something everyone else is doing? That just creates more wallpaper. It has to serve a purpose, even if that purpose is entertainment. Otherwise, it’s simply insulting your audience and they’re going to switch off. Some of the best ads tap into culture because they are clever and move the conversation on or have a fresh take. It’s a great opportunity to have a lot of fun. However, to simply pile on to a trend makes your ad and brand background noise.”

Gary Jacobs, executive creative director, Live & Breathe: “When considering creative tropes like dancing in advertising, agencies and brands should first reflect on authenticity and alignment with brand identity. In our experience creating an ad for The Happy Egg Co, we opted for a classic Northern Soul track and traditional spin dance moves to symbolize the farm-to-fork journey. Dancing was intrinsic to portraying happiness authentically rather than merely stating it. While it coincided with the trend of dance-centric ads, its success was rooted in its alignment with our original concept. However, it’s crucial to act swiftly; trends evolve rapidly.”

Scott Bowley, business development lead, Screenshot Media: “These dance-based trends can give brands a good entry point into various consumer communities, and let’s not forget that they are fun! But is that always the right approach? There are certainly cases where brands organically fit in a space like this. Take Gap, for instance. With its roots already in dancing ads, it creates an authentic and raw connection with consumers, all while being both on trend and on brand. See its latest slot featuring Jungle and Tyla. But, as should be the case with all brands hopping on any trend, marketers must decide whether this works for a short or long-term strategy and if they truly understand the landscape they’re dancing into?”

Don’t hate the dancers

Jon Evans, chief customer officer, System1: “Brands should ask one question before any other when it comes to jumping on a trend – is it effective? In the case of dancing, there are many examples in System1’s Test Your Ad database that tell us it is. The key isn’t the dancing; it’s the emotion behind it. An ad like Hanes’s commercial where a classical concert-goer sneaks away to boogie to Blondie is a great example. His uninhibited joy gets it an ‘Exceptional’ rating for short-term effectiveness. Capital One’s ‘Holiday Night Fever,’ with Travolta recreating his disco strut as Santa, combines joyful dancing with cultural references for one of the top-scoring US Holiday ads last year. Don’t get too serious or weird – edgy feet have got no rhythm – but it’ll be a while until the dance trend runs out of energy.”

Vicky Janaway, chief client officer, The Gate London: “Just look to 2018, when the nation craved collective nostalgia with two ads about a school play – Bohemian Rhapsody from John Lewis and Sainsbury’s The Big Night. Both of these play into the notion of ‘simultaneous invention,’ the phenomenon that independent discoveries can happen at the same time in different locations with no contact. When you consider there are only seven plots from which all stories descend it’s not a surprise the same tropes are used in advertising. Yet, just as great storytellers tell those stories in new ways, we too should ask ourselves, ‘Have I seen this before?’ and ‘How can we push this to do it in an interesting way?’ We need to make sure we hold ourselves to account to have the most impact. And as all effectiveness studies point, creativity works, we need to be interesting, not trendy.”

Samantha Deevy, chief strategy officer, BBH USA: “First, advertising is always a reflection of (and a response to) what is happening in the world around us. Things have been heavy – economic instability, literal wars, climate instability – the list goes on. Against this backdrop, people are looking for levity and entertainment from brands, an escape and some fun. I think this, coupled with what I like to call the ‘TikTokification’ of brands, we’re seeing that bleed into the brand beyond just how it behaves on the platform. And dancing is a bit like pizza – even when it’s bad, it’s still sort of good. So I’m not going to hate on brands giving us a little break from the real world in the form of ‘sometimes genuinely good and sometimes so cringe it’s still sort of good’ dancing.”

MJ Deery, creative director, Duncan Channon: “In the debate about dancing in ads, I’m team dance. I understand the opposition’s argument. There’s been quite a bit of brand boogie lately, and as agency creatives, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard of originality? Yes, but is dance what’s preventing that? It’s a form of expression, as is humor. Would we ever say we’ve seen too many funny ads and that laughing is now passe? The truth is, good is good. If you have a good idea that involves dancing, go for it. No amount of 1990s M&Ms performing chorus lines in white gloves and top hats or grown men dancing around in Fruit of the Loom costumes prevented Gap from producing ‘Khakis Swing.’ Just this spring, Gap got its groove back in its Jungle-inspired campaign, which has been called innovative and powerful. So, have we reached a saturation point with dance? Not if you make it good.”

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