21/04/2016 08:03 BST | Updated 21/04/2017 06:12 BST

We Know You Know: Advertising With Irony

We know you know, Small Luxury Hotels of the World says in a new set of print ads from McCann Bristol. There's no stock imagery of families frolicking gaily by the pool; no attempt to entice with displays of luxury bedrooms. In fact it's a text only campaign. 'Even the most exciting, glossy advert can't seduce people who know what they want. So here's a boring one.' One of the ads even references those 'oh-soo-clever ad agencies'. The message behind the message is flattering to the audience. You're so smart you not only know this is an advert, you also know how advertising works. The target is far too savvy to 'fall' for the usual creative formula.

So what's going on here? Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew and inventor of the phrase 'public relations', once brought up a difficult question. Does marketing become less effective if people know they're being sold to? He posed the question in 1928, but it's still relevant. Brands like Small Luxury Hotels of the World are dealing with a consumer mindset which is fully aware of what advertising is attempting to do on an explicit and implicit level. It's an audience that has probably binge watched Mad Men.

So brands have adapted. In an attempt to stay creatively current, they've done things like adopt purposes, missions and crusades. They've started to act like publishers of content, building apps, and producing online content.

What Small Luxury Hotels has done is much more brutally simple, but smarter. They've adopted 'self-ironising branding', injecting a bit of post-modern marketing into the mix. Doing so not only helps them stand out, but is unexpected and interesting. It also pays the audience a compliment, while also allowing the brand to be quite blatant (ironically, of course) with their sell.

Dollar Shave Club have taken a similar approach: renouncing all subtlety and making a brilliant bad ad in the process. 'Are our blades any good? Nah. Our blades are f**king great'. How big brands like Gillette respond to this is hard to fathom. Old Spice is another example of a brand playing with the idea of marketing. They went as far as to fire their marketing director and replace them with a wolf dog, which proceeded to dish out sage advice and eating colleagues. Old Spice has even become 'so powerful it can sell itself in other people's commercials'.

These brands often renounce all subtlety and are often blatant in their attempts to get you to buy stuff. They pastiche classic advertising, embrace clichés and reference other advertising. Newcastle Brown Ale produced a brilliant example of this, creating and ad about the Super Bowl ad they could have created (with enough money). And consider this year's Superbowl ads. Ten major brands (including Amazon, Axe, T-Mobile and Budweiser) all referenced the fact they were ads.

With so many companies now 'laddering' their thinking to words like 'goodness' or happiness', or pondering their wider societal purpose, it's still worth remembering the value of a good ol' fashion (post-modern) sell.