Tom Hurrell
Tom Hurrell 18 June 2018

The beauty of imperfection: What marketers can learn from Wabi-sabi

In ad land, we usually strive for perfection. We want to choose the perfect words, the perfect image, the perfect placement: everything working in harmony.But what if, actually, harmony was overrated? What if you could benefit from imperfection?

Tom Hurrell
Tom Hurrell 18 June 2018
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In ad land, we usually strive for perfection. We want to choose the perfect words, the perfect image, the perfect placement: everything working in harmony.But what if, actually, harmony was overrated? What if you could benefit from imperfection?

 

The brain likes imperfections

Ever heard of wabi-sabi? It’s a Japanese word that refers to the beauty of imperfections. A celebration of flaws, it can refer to characteristics like asymmetry, roughness and austerity. Much like Buddhist beliefs, wabi-sabi acknowledges that flaws are an inherent, natural part of life. But more than that, we need imperfections to make something perfect.

More than this, there is evidence to suggest we’re actually drawn to things that are a little bit off. Beau Lotto, author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Things Differently says that: “our brain is not only drawn to certainty, it’s also drawn to the ‘noise’ – the imperfections that create difference – and of course you’ll remember that our five senses need contrast in order to make sense of meaningless information.”

When it comes to flaws, we like them because we recognise them as real. As a result, the object is therefore endowed with humanity, authenticity, and an element of truth that’s lacking from the picture-perfect.

In this vein, why aren’t flaws embraced much by creative departments? Knowing that errors and quirks can help people view things as human, more authentic or truthful, it seems a great choice to help steer around the cynicism of consumers.  Let’s check out some brands who’ve embraced flaws.

Imperfections in action

A classic example is a massively successful Olivy ad for Hathaway, a brand of shirts. They took a classic print ad format, with one noticeable change. The model was wearing an eye-patch.

It was a small change, seemingly of little consequence. It actually had a rather large consequence: doubling Hathaway’s shirt sales in under five years. You see, because people are so used to seeing conventionally attractive models with little diversity, a gesture like an eye-patch led people to take notice of the ad. Helped along with some killer copy, sales rocketed.

Though this is an old example, imperfection is still being used today.
Horror film ads tend to be pretty formulaic – an eerie soundtrack, a sprinkling of corners and a hefty serving of jump scares. But Lionsgate’s recent horror film Ghost Stories found a way to deliver something a little different and – we think – effective.

The film’s strapline, relating to seeing ghosts and the mind playing tricks, is ‘the brain sees what it wants to see’. Playing around with misspelling, the ads were littered with errors such as ‘Ghost Storeis’, ‘the brain sees waht it wnats to see’ and ‘in cimenas arpil 6.’

Because the brain can interpret mixed-up letters, we can still read what they’re trying to say.  This is a clever use of imperfection because it visually communicates the message of the movie.

Snickers have also tried a similar tactic, to more comedic effect. A recent banner ad says: ‘Oh deer. It’s hard to spell when your hungry’ which plays into their tagline ‘you’re not you when you’re hungry.’

So there we have it – a little imperfection can go a long way when it comes to standing out. And done well, it can help your brand look more endearing and trust-worthy, too.

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