Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Old Spice Empathises With Young People

Old Spice is a great example of exactly how to rebrand.

We all know the fun ad series with Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews, the humour, the style in those spots. How it rebuilt Old Spice’s brand, made it cool, made it viral.

(Man, I forgot how good those ads are. I used to imitate them with my friends all the time.)

But there’s more to it than that.

It’s easily forgotten now that Old Spice wasn’t just declining – it was near dead. It was on the verge of being dismantled, delisted and discontinued. This was a product for your granddad; its user base was not just leaving the market but shuffling off this mortal coil. And there was no suggestion that anyone was coming in to replace them.

Wieden + Kennedy knew that the brand needed a shake-up. The core value of that reboot though was empathy, in two very different ways.

Firstly, there was a keen sense of empathy in the rebuilding of the Old Spice brand. They moved from the past to being emblematic of modern manhood: cool, attractive and confident, but also self-aware and self-deprecating when necessary.

(Somehow this manages to be the definition of both coolness and self-deprecation.)

No pretention. Just a strong, expressive voice which spoke to people in the modern world. Sounds a lot more human and relatable than most brands.

The reinvention of Old Spice wasn’t just a nice coat of paint. It was strategic. It staked a claim on modern cool, on something we could identify with, recognising that the world was starting to move away from the Lynx/Axe style of all-out testosterone and quasi-sexism.

(Not that I have anything against Lynx. It takes rare cunning to appear to be marketing towards cool twenty-something guys when you’re really targeting nervous fourteen-year-olds.)

As much as anything it was a recognition that male grooming, like beer, is now a market that is more about attitude than product. Whether or not you like this shift, to make a brand choice in body wash is to make a statement about yourself. It’s a way to declare the lifestyle and character you identify with.  

And W+K and Old Spice saw that there was a clear space going unclaimed, and a lot of young men going unrepresented. They identified, they empathised, and they built a brand and a character around that space – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

And on that note, on to part two.

The second way that Old Spice has used empathy has been in stripping back the distance between the brand and its audience. Frank Rose covers this in a great article on brand empathy; “the idea was to give people a way to connect with Isaiah Mustafa, the man who’d become ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’”.

The building of the Mustafa character as not just a mascot, but a figure that interacted and engaged with the audience in near real-time (via Twitter and YouTube) was a huge step in creating genuine empathy for a brand with its potential customers.

And 34 million viewers online in that first week are not to be sniffed at; the response films as a whole had one of the biggest viewerships of the year on YouTube. With every response, every funny answer and clever line, Old Spice wasn’t just innovating – they were connecting with people on a one to one, personal level.

So, what’s the takeaway learning from this?

It’s nothing complicated.

(I always say that though to be fair. And then I carry on for another hundred words*.)

The key idea goes back to a point I’ve made before: people pay attention when they feel you’re talking to them individually – not just to the crowd they’re in. When it feels like you actually get them.

By starting a stream of Twitter conversations, and accompanying YouTube clips, Old Spice literally was talking to people individually. And funnily enough, people went crazy for it.

It’s a simple formula.

First you make your brand seem relatable and engaging.

Then you actually actively engage with your audience.

Then – you profit.

(I mean, you would hope.)

(*86 words, actually.)

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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Everybody Needs A Pink Duckswan

Ikea is a well-loved brand. And they sure know how to stay that way.

Here’s an initiative with a good cause behind it – their charity fundraiser. Each year they create a new campaign to raise money for children’s charities. And in a quirky, off-beat idea, this year they’ve created a series of plush toys, their designs taken from the doodles of children themselves.

Hence, the pink duckswan referenced above.

(Now there’s a sentence you don’t often see. The cadence is all over the chart.)

And the rest. Which range from “goofball bat” to “depressed skunksquirrel” to the classic, much-loved “dinosaur with no arms and a Morph head wearing a beanie”.

I think you'll find that that was a perfect description.
(I believe it was Da Vinci who first developed this design, or perhaps it was Caravaggio.)

It’s innovative. Eye-catching, certainly. And in turning kids' ideas into works of art, it taps into something powerful – empathy, in playing upon something that people already do.

(Apparently “praising ads which tap into things which people already do” is now my theme of the month, going by the number of times I’ve referenced this idea recently. Don’t worry; using italicised asides is still theme of the year.)

Seriously. You can find story after story, gallery after gallery of this. Parents, artists and photographers working to translate silly, whimsical ideas and drawings from children into silly, whimsical, beautiful pieces of art.

Perhaps the fact that this does take inspiration from other projects undermines my claim of it being “innovative”.

(It’s always embarrassing when you’re inconsistent within your own article.)

But it’s the first time a major brand has this on.

And it’s executed so well. Bold. Beautiful. Un-self-conscious. They feel as much real, believable, plausible toys, as much as they feel like real toys designed by kids.

The fact that it feels genuine is the most important factor in the end. Ikea actually is a company which invests and focuses on charitable giving for children’s causes. $90 million since 2003. And the style of the initiative, the idea behind it, the childish, simplistic creativity – it’s all very Ikea, in the very best way.

It’s a brilliant campaign. A great cause. And it doesn’t feel forced. It’s a feat of its own, to create a charity campaign that is both authentic and actually engaging. Ikea makes it look easy, and natural.

And, to conclude, I would like to buy a pink duckswan.

Here's the full collection:

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Monday, 2 November 2015

I Just Realised I’ve Only Taken One Holiday In The Past Year

That’s kind of depressing.


And on that note, here’s a great ad by the tourism board of Antigua and Barbuda. Great, in no small part because of its use of contrast and context.

It’s an ad placed on the walls of Tube stations. And its primary exposure, its primary audience, is with tired, restless, overworked commuters. Commuters who want to escape. People who in that moment need a holiday more than any person previously in existence. People stuck in a rut. Crammed in a crowd. Feeling physically and emotionally trapped.

So what is the ad?

Virtually nothing.

It’s a man, on a boat, by a beach, fishing. He’s just a guy, standing there, fishing by hand. He’s on his own. He’s just… chilled out.

There’s copy. It reads –

“If you fancy a little seafood then get down to the water early and look for Alex. He’ll let you know what he’s likely to catch that day.” 
“After all, there’s nowhere better to enjoy a plate of fresh fish than Antigua and Barbuda.”

It’s sweet, simple, understated writing. It makes a claim, sure. But it’s so innocuous. It’s barely there. Surrounded by aggressive, dense, energetic ads elsewhere, the ad’s sparseness is what sells it.

And it’s that contrast again.



Stressed out.


Crammed in.

Space to think.

It almost doesn’t need the words. But it’s something beautiful nonetheless.

Never forget the context of your ads. Never forget where they will appear, and why they appear there. Not every execution works in every situation.

And yes, there are myriad ways in which the context of an ad can shift from person to person, place to place. There are a lot of variables to look at. It’s not always predictable.

But putting yourself in the customers’ shoes is not just about thinking about who they are. It’s about where they are, what they’re doing at a given time – and what their surroundings do to their mood and their thoughts.

Context is important. Because when you’re packed like sardines in a Tube station, an empty, tranquil, relaxed ad – that ad makes the sell before it even speaks.

(This article was brought to you by Late Friday Night Trains Home, the United Kingdom Passport Office, and a generous contribution from Caffeinated Beverages United.)

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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Back To Burberry: A Careful, Concentrated Brand

I've said before that Burberry is one of the great examples of brand building in the past ten years. And luckily for me, this assertion happens to be backed up by facts. As of just the other day, Burberry is the most valuable British brand in the world – and well within the overall world top 100, at 73.

With credit to the Scotsman. We Scots can always be trusted to follow fashion brand news.
They’ve fought their way back up. Not by thoughtless expansionism. Not by forcing their presence upon everyone in media blitzes. But by being single-minded in the pursuit of one trait. 


It’s that relentless focus on remaining premium, on establishing a premium quality in everything that they do, which builds and maintains their position. They adapt with the times to be sure. But they never lose sight of the core brand. And they don’t let themselves be lost in a plethora of new lines and new products as they did in the 1990s.

When they do add new products or expand on old ones, it’s carefully planned. The brand comes first, before words like “market diversification” or “upscaling”.

A great recent example of this was seen in the launch of the new personalisation service for their famous scarves.

Watch here.

As AdFreak noted, personalisation can have a certain way of undermining the premium value of a product. After all, if anyone can have it personalised, what makes it special and valuable?

(Even spam emails seem to manage it these days. No I don’t want to email you my account details Halifox. Nor you, Clivesdale Bank.)

How do you combat that cheap perception? By highlighting the work that goes into the product. By showing exactly why it commands a high price tag. And most of all, by demonstrating that the personalisation isn’t a cheap tag-on – it’s a part of the construction of the product, an intrinsic step to its creation.

So in their launch, personalisation plays an important role – but only as part of the Burberry brand equity of quality and character. It’s treated less as a new feature so much as a deepening of the existing brand value. And it’s one of many qualities highlighted in the launch film.

(Including, apparently, teasels. Which I like to imagine are just weasels who make mean jokes.)

This is an actual teasel. Disappointing.
And thanks to the brand mentality and focus I spoke about earlier, the film isn’t just on-message about this new offering. It’s also a beautiful, watchable, absorbing wee film. The new product isn’t what resonates. It’s the brand value that informs the product and the film that is what is so engaging.

For Burberry that means premium quality in everything they create, care and attention, their definition of English style and English values. When Burberry sells, it never just sells the product. It sells the Burberry brand, and just as importantly, the Burberry values.

And in showing the careful, caring process of creating a personalised Burberry scarf, Burberry implicitly gives a reason to buy into them – because Burberry stands for careful, caring, focused fashion. 

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Burberry shows that "why" in everything that they do.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Gillette’s Innovative Advertising Strategy Cuts Both Ways

(I know, I know.)

Gillette is getting yelled at on that place where people yell at companies (Twitter). And it’s pretty much all their fault.

They chose to promote tweets which criticised their competitor and praised Gillette. Problem is, it wasn’t just any competitor. It was much-loved, up-and-coming challenger brand Dollar Shave Club.

(Now where have I heard insightful commentary about them before?)

Attacking a small, popular challenger brand without looking mean-spirited and insecure is a difficult feat. Frankly, it’s virtually impossible. No one reads the story of David and Goliath and thinks “man, it would have been cool if the big guy had squished David”. Everyone, up to and including AdWeek, has piled on them in response.

So not the best move for Gillette, image-wise.

But I wanted to flag something else about this.

That one initiative was certainly a bad idea. But the fact that Gillette are experimenting with unusual marketing ideas in this way is genuinely commendable. If they hadn’t chosen to use it in a negative way, that concept – promoting and supporting tweets about their brand – could have been an extremely powerful, authentic way to get attention.

And it’s this willingness to play around with formats and try unconventional ideas that stands them in good stead in the social media age.

For a more effective example, try their viral campaign in China. By faking a (barely) risqué “candid” film with Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan, they created a tension, a buzz around their category and their product that had huge implications for their sales.

If you’re sitting there thinking that maybe that’s just Chinese people being silly and gullible, you’d be wrong.

(And also kind of racist. Come on reader. What would your mother think?)

Apart from anything else, there was a smaller but similar example made with tennis player Roger Federer not so long ago. 

And it took a very long time for it to come out that the stunt was faked. It looks real. It's unexpected. It's cool. Much like the X-Files, we want to believe.

Now, is hoodwinking the audience the right thing to do? Questionable. But it’s also pretty harmless in a situation like this.

(I mean, who ever got hurt by a razor?)

And beyond all those questions lies this one:

In this roiling media landscape, how can you hope to survive without trying to innovate?

Innovation means a willingness to make the odd misstep. It means risking, taking leaps, trying every option. It means walking in stupid. Creating interesting, playful films like "100 Years of Hair", also featured here a while back.

Does it always work out? Of course not. But inaction for fear of making a misstep – that’s a misstep in of itself. Better to reach out and burn your fingers than stay back and get cold.

And if you need a good shave – well, you’d better not be afraid of cutting yourself.

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Friday, 16 October 2015

Can You Hold Your Laptop Like This?

This is a pretty old-school ad.

There’s something very refreshing about the simple question, the implied claim. Often computer advertising gets bogged down in facts and lists. It’s too often forgotten that the vast majority of us are not so bothered about the quantum-core-quasar-swordfish-processor. We just want something that does the job, looks good, and is easy to handle.

(Although now I say it I kind of want that quantum-core-quasar-swordfish-processor. That sounds both high class and possibly a delicious meal.)

Besides, nowadays, pretty much any laptop will do pretty much any of the tasks you ask of it. So we worry less about what it does, since we already know that it’s good enough.

And sure, you could argue that it’s embarrassing to advertise a computer based on its weight, rather than its capabilities. Or to play upon a simple claim rather than the true complexity of a computer.

But I think you’ll find that Apple won that argument long ago. Computers are status symbols. They’re all about the look, the feel, the incitement of jealousy in others.

So I like this. It gets to the point, with a simple reason to buy.

I do have a couple of minor criticisms though.

The first is that trying to add a note of glamour might not really be necessary. It’s a computer, and it isn’t an Apple computer, so you’re always going to struggle to sell people on the idea that it’s sleek and sexy, no matter how much red lipstick you put on it. It’s a nice ad, but I don’t know that we really needed to be convinced with bright red and a look that could kill.

And secondly, on the note of Apple, there’s also a certain risk there that, rightly or wrongly, people will see that ad, think of a thin, light computer, and think: Apple.

Apple makes thin, light, sleek, sexy computers. That’s what we all know.

But all that aside, it’s a good execution. Simple selling point, nice art direction, clever copy. It feels like one of those old ads, like “Think Small” or “At 65 miles per hour…”; challenging, arresting. Just a little bit unexpected. 

Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what you want.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Writing Is A One To One Conversation

This is a piece inspired by a great article by Lois Geller from a couple of years back, in Forbes. Give it a read if you can.

In effective writing, good sense of wording, grammar and flow are important.

(Speeling is important too.)

But too often what’s overlooked is the need to sound, well, human. It’s an obvious point in a way, but writing should sound natural. Outside of a few situations, it needs to sound like one human being, talking to another.

That’s nowhere more true than in advertising. No one is obliged to read an ad. So if you want people to pay attention, it helps to make them feel like something similar to a human being is talking to them.

It’s nothing short of amazing that even today you find ads that talk at you with all the mood and humanity of a barking dog wearing clothes and a wig.

(Still more surprising is the number of big-budget movies which fall into the same trap.)

So how do you go about sounding more human?

It’s simple. By writing the way that you talk. You don’t need to add heaps of ums and ahs to every pause. You don’t need to keep the mumbles and repetitions and meanderings. Just try to bring the rhythm and feel of speech into each sentence you write. 

Think about the way in which you would say those words – and if it sounds right, if that line sounds like you. That’s the fundamental test for each word – the authenticity.

Lines breaks are important, because we don’t just speak in sentences. We speak in a conversation, with real, solid pauses and ebbs and flows.

So each fragment should be accessible, engaged – and sometimes a little playful.

(Using asides can help with this I hear.)

Above all, your writing needs to come out sounding like the best version of you. That doesn’t mean sounding fancy. It doesn’t mean leaning on long words to enhance your meaning (unless it makes sense in the context). It just means sounding like a structured, thoughtful, directed speaker.

Tone and feel are everything. Sounding human is essential. Listen to one of those injury claim robocalls and tell me that isn’t the case.

You’re a human being. But your writing is how you prove it.

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Monday, 12 October 2015

Aria Fritta

A very short one. I found out the other day that Italians have a fantastic term for empty speech, words without meaning. They call it aria fritta – literally, fried air.

That is an amazing phrase. You immediately get it.

Fried nothing. Fried space. Fried air.

Slightly unhealthy, mostly empty. Pointless but fun.

It almost sounds like the name of an ad agency. You’d have to hope your clients never looked up the true meaning. Probably wouldn’t inspire confidence (I mean, we shouldn’t really be selling fried nothing).

It is a fun thought though.

(If I ever start a company selling popcorn, I guarantee you that it’ll be called Fried Air.)

(Don't you just love Creative Commons?)

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Friday, 9 October 2015

Brands Go To Space For Some Reason

It appears to be the year of strapping branded content onto a rocket and firing it skywards.


Because it’s the time to boldly go, to innovate, to connect with audiences in thrilling ways. Because companies want to excite our imaginations, to soar in our minds, to be a brand to which you can aspire.

Or, possibly, because everyone else is doing it and it’s pretty cheap and easy and we want to go viral like that guy with Red Bull.

(Felix… the cat? I’m not on Wi-Fi right now to check as I write this. Let’s go with the cat.)

(Puss in Boots is not the only one doing space-y things anymore.)

Whether its “space beer”, “space phones”, or even “space cocktail menus”, there’s not much of a pause from anyone to question exactly why jumping on this bandwagon so readily (and for so little reason) is such a good idea.

It’s hard sometimes to see the brand logic in going with the crowd and tying yourself to the next space balloon. Not everyone needs to join the space age buzz.

Nothing screams “we have no coherent brand message” more than

spinning wildly in the wind, copying whatever trend appears next.

(Well, except literally screaming at people “we have no coherent brand message”. Strategy meetings can get tense sometimes.)

That’s not to say there’s no point to any of this.

For beer brands like John Smith it’s a gimmicky selling point, but it does have a unique value to sell.

For Jose Cuervo, the frozen margarita may be a little silly, but at least it makes some kind of sense. Frozen margaritas are a thing.

(A delicious, delicious thing.)

And for Red Bull, the original, it of course tied in entirely with their brand ethos and message – Red Bull means extreme stunts and adrenaline.

(So Mog’s supersonic jump made a lot of sense, brand-wise.)

But for far too many brands now, space is just a shortcut to ‘cool’. It’s a thing you can do to make a nice film which doesn’t involve thinking too hard – and you can pray that it becomes famous in amongst a crowded market of near-identical “unique” events.

If you’ve got a distinctive, defined brand, you’ll know if it makes sense to do some kind of space stunt. But if you’re just doing it because you’re jealous of Bagpuss and Red Bull, you probably need to spend a little more time working out exactly what it is that you stand for.

(With apologies to Felix Baumgartner, who is an extremely impressive individual and doesn’t deserve to be repeatedly confused with various mildly-famous cats.)

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