Brands are attempting to appeal to ad-averse consumers by ditching their branding.

Corporations are setting out to test what they need to lose in order to gain favour from the largest growing market share, Gen Z. This demonstrates an increasing shift from promotional marketing to covert tactics that target a discerning, values-based audience. Purpose-led brands face no challenge in appealing to this desire, but traditional brands are focusing marketing efforts on novel brand experiences or even ditching branding altogether.


Unbranded advertising has made a bold, mainstream resurgence

Billboard showing a Subway sandwich

(Image credit: Subway/Publicis Worldwide)

In March earlier this year, an unbranded Subway campaign by Publicis took over a series of billboards across Australia, featuring nothing more than close-up photography of a Subway sandwich. Subway’s Head of Marketing, Rodica Titeica, stated “Sometimes saying less, says more – and when your product is as universally known and loved as the Subway footlong, it speaks for itself”. This strategy may be reserved for household names, but it holds a lesson for us all.

Big brands are addressing the ever-increasing need to create customer-centric and experiential marketing, focusing efforts on appealing to Gen Z (10–24-year-olds), who currently represent around 40% of the market share, and are predicted to become the largest consumer base by 2026. Despite an immersion in technology, this is a generation that expects an ad-free media experience. Gen Z have a greater distrust in the media and institutions than prior generations. According to Rachel Ferninando, senior vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, “There’s a desire to almost reject traditional advertising”. In a competitive online retail world and a click-to-sort-price marketplace, Gen Z show a preference for brands that align with their values.

Unbranded campaigns shift the focus to brand experience

Traditionally, unbranded advertising has been most prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry. This allowed flexibility in operating outside of the TGA’s purview, which closely governs the advertising of prescription medication, particularly in B2C. Now, we’re seeing brands adopting unbranded campaigns to appeal to ad-averse consumers.

You may have spotted Doritos ANZ’s recent brandless campaign with slots on Australian TV. Originally launched in the US in 2019, the TV ad deliberately makes no mention of the Doritos name or logo, instead featuring pixelated “censored” Doritos packets and a voiceover touting “chips so iconic, we don’t need to name it”. Head to Dorito’s website and you’ll be greeted with a giant stripped-back version of the Doritos logo with the wording “Logo Goes Here”. The campaign has also enlisted Insta-celebs like Flex Mami, Australia’s ‘Ultimate Influencer’, who in a recent Doritos-sponsored Instagram post is wearing a tee marked with the orange stained swipe from Dorito covered fingerprints. You can purchase the same shirt on Dorito’s website, or create your own. DIY instructions can be found here.

Subverting the conventions of brand consistency

It’s a strange but wonderful paradox of older brands that, when you remove their name from packaging or advertising, the first thing that consumers do is fill in the cognitive blank in such a way that salience occurs to a much greater effect”. Mark Ritson

When brands reach a point of high recognition, a logo, typography, packaging, and other core brand elements can be pared back. The audience will recognise it through much more subtle, visual cues. By inviting viewers to fill in the blanks, brands induce a sense of familiarity and establish connection. Removing branding won’t satisfy the ever-increasing expectations of an ethically conscious generation, but it can provide a sense of novelty and a shot at actively encouraging the cognitive process of brand recall.

Even if worn by Australia’s ‘Ultimate Influencer’, will a Doritos fingerprint-stained tee be enough to appeal to an ad-averse generation? Will billboards picturing giant sandwiches encourage you to opt for the ‘healthy alternative’? And will the unbranded, anti-advertising tactics resonate with young audiences in their desire for authenticity and sincerity?


What does this mean for non-household names?

  • Be aware of the behaviour and attitudes of emerging key demographics
  • Understand the value you are providing to those you seek to serve “What value are we providing?”
  • Create authentic, engaging ways to connect with your audience