How have brands become so ‘vanilla’ on social?

The Wild’s Tom McGirr urges brands to be more creative and maximise on the power of social

Tom McGirr

Executive Strategy Director The Wild


Social media used to be a bright, shiny communication tool for businesses, a platform through which they could connect with global audiences. Just look at Apple’s ongoing ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaign - which leaned on user-generated content (UGC) posted on Instagram - or the Heinz x Weetabix collaboration which set fire to social in 2021.

Brands’ continued spend on social demonstrates how highly they value it. Global social media ad spend is forecast to exceed $229bn this year, with this figure predicted to hit over $300bn by 2024. With such focus on social, why are so many brands still getting it so wrong?

Murmurings regarding brands’ lack of creativity, inherent laziness and ‘crushingly vanilla’ ideas are becoming louder.

Tom McGirr, Executive Strategy Director, The Wild

Whilst Apple, Weetabix and Heinz have shown they have the ability to harness creativity, these types of campaigns are becoming rarities. And general murmurings regarding brands’ lack of creativity, inherent laziness and ‘crushingly vanilla’ ideas are becoming louder.

So how can brands improve their creative footprint on social - and effectively stop wasting the sizable budgets they’ve worked hard to get signed off? 

Bring your social agency into your business challenge

Brands have slipped into bad practices - and providing creative agencies with ‘social briefs’ is chief amongst them. These briefs are a surefire way to crush creativity and deliver wet-wipe activity. Brands need to start trusting the new model social agencies, who have the strategy and planning creds to tackle the business problem – and get out of bed to achieve IRL impact, not just shiny engagement rates.

Truth is, all too often, social objectives are outdated. Brands need to encourage agencies to get under the skin of real-life humans rather than platform algorithms, making sure you measure success by blending online and offline success metrics.

Which brings us to an interesting question. What should be prioritised - brand or activation?

The importance of long-term strategies

Social media is the new shop floor - there is no debate that it should be core to brand experience. After all, when was the last time you saw someone reading an Argos catalogue on the tube?

The consumer experience starts, ends and continues on social. But too many brand teams are being forced to demonstrate short-term ROI in order to justify continued spend. And this is causing social feeds to become littered with promotions, product ads and DM-style content - none of which resonates with today’s consumers.

Social users aren’t scrolling with the mindset of a commuter waiting at the bus stop. They are looking for inspiration, entertainment and education. And I’m afraid to say that your 2-for-1 deal at Asda isn’t going to cut it.

Brands that continue to execute activation-centric social strategies are already seeing diminishing returns, and long-term success hinges on building brand through finding your niche in culture – and ensuring brand metrics are at the heart of your effectiveness measurement.

The ‘analysis paradox’

Brands will be familiar with the ‘analysis paradox’ - where customers are overwhelmed with choice and sales suffer as a result. But there is a greater threat. Turns out ‘analysis paradox’ is contagious; it’s charging through brand marketing teams and it’s killing social creativity and activity.

Brands have been lauded for moving significant budgets from creative agencies to social-first agencies. So much real-time power and agility at their fingertips, however, isn’t necessarily a good thing. The endless possibilities are resulting in endless feedback loops - and endless ‘we’ve missed the moment’ emails. Brand teams could rely on safe testing phases within the television commercial (TVC) process - but social is a different beast. By the time you’ve tested anything, the moment has gone.

So how can brands truly ‘test and learn’? Simple - hand the reins over to your social agency. The audience determines whether your social content will work - and you’ll never know what they like unless you post. Getting it live, rather than getting it perfect, provides you with access to an ongoing audience feedback loop. This loop will help you avoid those subjective shootouts that crush creative ambition and spark feelings of distrust between brand and agency.

Social is 3D and 360 - not linear 

The age of porting TV ads onto social and expecting results is over. But we’re still seeing the same creative arcs delivered on social - just in bitesize, snackable chunks.

It isn’t about long-form vs short-form anymore. Rather, it’s about linear vs parasitic storytelling. Brands have a relatively clear view of how they want to take customers on the ride for ATL campaigns - this isn’t the case on social media. 

Social is a free-roam theatre production. All you can do is open the door and let the audience decide where they head for themselves. Forget the rise, the fall and the crescendo - think of your social campaigns and social ecosystem as an immersive experience.

Paid campaigns allow brands to determine how the narrative unfolds. But even then, they’re unlikely to follow it as keenly as you’d hope. Even when they’re hooked, chances are they’ll spin off across platforms and dive into your socials from all angles.

Creating campaign experiences - rather than campaign/narrative arcs - is the ideal solution. And considering how much you rely on sequential messaging is also important.

Not all trends are for you

Social is an incredibly curated experience. Trends typically spike within audiences and subcultures - rather than breaking into mainstream. Agency and marketing bodies alike often forget that they follow more brands, influencers and publishers than the average human. And this causes them to jump on trends that rarely make it into their audience’s social sphere.

Even The Wild isn’t immune to this: We’re a social agency, a social bunch. We’re plugged in - and even we find ourselves asking ‘you what?’ to colleagues when they reveal ‘the latest social trend’ or ‘last night’s viral hashtag’.

The key is to not be a ‘Little Miss Try-Hard’. Not every trend is for you. Create dummy accounts which mimic the behaviours and feed curation of your consumers - and capitalise on the trends and conversations they are interacting with.

At The Wild, we partner our creative teams with creators and social media managers, and let the platform experts play with the big idea. Teasing it through different formats and placements is the catalyst to finding space for the audience to feature, interact or drive it forward.

Guest Author

Tom McGirr

Executive Strategy Director The Wild


Tom McGirr is Executive Strategy Director at The Wild, Jungle Creations’ social-first creative agency. Tom started his career as a copywriter at M-is for clients such as British Airways and The Royal Navy before moving to MEC as a lead creative strategist where he helped launch its creative and content division, Wavemaker, and worked with several notable clients including McVitie’s, Vodafone and Lloyds. Tom joined Jungle Creations in 2018 and was part of the core team who launched The Wild, as well as building out the agency’s proposition. In the last two years Tom has taken a lead role on all new business wins including; Brew City, MLB and Associated British Foods, and helps all of our clients navigate and tame the fragmented world of social.

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Social Media Creativity