Friday, 29 May 2015

Is Ugly the New Trend in Advertising?

What do we mean when we use the word beautiful? 

Beauty is subjective. 
How we define it varies from person to person, gender to gender, place to place. 
Take Esther Honig’s project Before & After. She asked designers around the world to Photoshop her beautiful – and of course the results were dramatically different from country to country. 
There’s a chronological element as well. Grey London did a great piece on this for Gillette recently – how men’s facial hair and fashion has changed constantly and radically over just the past century. 
The spot wasn't created to mock the strange and unusual facial hair of the past.
(Though I think we can all admit now that the 70s style of moustache should never have been acceptable.)
By highlighting the rapid changes in fashion, Gillette justifies its own offering for the modern world – male body grooming. 
Unusual? Perhaps, but no more so than anything else we've seen in the past century. Recognising the plurality of beauty standards isn’t essential for being a well-known brand, but it is essential for being well liked.

Enter Protein World.

Their ad campaign “Are You Beach Body Ready” has – objectively – been a major success. It’s raised the company’s profile significantly and generated huge sales: five thousand new customers in four days.
As Dave Trott noted, because of the controversy, the first name in weight loss is now Protein World.

But it’s hard to imagine this media storm yielding long-term benefits.

If nothing else, declaring itself the provider for the unattainably beautiful is limiting its own potential market.
Protein World implicitly claims only one standard for beauty; a certain type of face, a certain body shape. And it’s dishonest. More than that, it’s unnecessarily negative.
Dove by contrast took the backlash over the ad as a chance to jump in with another iteration of its body-positive, pluralistic take on beauty.
(This wasn't in fact made by Dove, but by a fan. Which is if anything more impressive for a brand.)
Dove’s message of ‘Real Beauty’ is a powerful one. It’s not through idealism – it’s through realism. In acknowledging that we don’t all fit into one prescribed vision of beauty,  the Dove message comes across as being more honest, more genuine.
This is the 21st century. It’s not enough to simply tell people what they want anymore. You have to give them options. You have to give them a positive message.

You have to make them feel good. 

Which brings us to the Intermarché “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” campaign by Marcel in France. If you haven’t already heard of this, you should really check it out. If nothing else, Adam&eve's ECD Richard Brim has it as his top pick for Cannes. So look out for that.
It’s a very simple idea at its heart: sell more of the less attractive fruits and vegetables, and save money for everyone. It was a witty, funny, bold campaign, and captured the imagination. The campaign ran with fun copy about the produce which underlined the fact that, ugly or not, this was still good food.
An Ugly Orange Makes Beautiful Juice.
The less appealing produce was sold alongside the standard fare – except 30% cheaper. They even gave away produce to prove their point, with ‘ugly orange juice’, and ‘ugly mashed potato’.
13 million saw the ads for free on social media, and it wasn’t just a viral phenomenon; sales went up 24% following the campaign launch. 
Soon journalists were calling for all supermarkets to follow Intermarché’s lead. As of just last week the French parliament has passed a law banning the destruction of food by supermarkets. Thanks in no small part to the push by Marcel and Intermarché.
It’s a genius bit of insight.

So, is this a new trend in advertising?

Maybe not.
It’s important to remember that a big part of the appeal of these ads is in their novelty, as much as their message. 
But equally what the campaigns from Dove and Intermarché have in common is that they come across as truthful. People trust ‘ugly’ ads in what they say, because if you’re going to lie, the first thing you do is wrap the lie up in something pretty.
We’re surrounded by the beautiful in advertising – and that’s good, that’s what works most of the time. But there is beauty in telling the truth in a bold way.

And in a world filled with pretty ads and sanitised images, there is something refreshing about the bravery of being willing to be ugly.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Cravendale and the Thumb Cats

This is a fantastic example of making great creative and great strategy in tandem. Wieden + Kennedy London have worked for a while now with Cravendale Milk. Cravendale’s special feature is that it’s filtered, which gives it a better taste. Exciting stuff.

And yet oddly enough Cravendale has been a part of the national conversation for years now, with great, fun, engaging advertising. Still more so with the creation of a semi-recent campaign, Cats With Thumbs. You can guess what the premise was.

Cats have launched a series of horrific attacks on humans, cutting off thumbs as trophies in what will later be known as the Thumb War. Their leader, Lionel von Mewserschatz, has just declared: “Your people, your land, your balls of twine are now ours, here and henceforth.” In reaction, the –

OK so apparently that wasn’t the premise.

(Though I think we can agree that that would make a great movie.)

The real idea of course was that if cats had thumbs they would steal Cravendale milk. Which is a simple idea to be sure, but it was executed fantastically. Check it out.

What I want to concentrate on though is the strategic thinking that went into it. Because what they did was not just come up with a fun idea with the Cats With Thumbs concept, they seeded the idea in the public imagination before the campaign was even launched, to help it fit more readily into our minds and seem part of a trend, rather than just being a strange, eye-catching initiative.

They did it through unbranded content, with guerrilla marketing that was so guerrilla that the whole team was probably wearing camouflage throughout. By releasing a video weeks in advance showing a housecat which appeared to have thumbs, the Cats With Thumbs concept was spread around the web virally with no one imagining that there might be any deeper meaning behind it.

And so, when the actual campaign launched, it was essentially as though we had already seen the film before – we were aware and accepting and bought-in to the idea without even realising it.

Now that is some serious planning.

Seeding an idea amongst your audience might seem a little Machiavellian, a little disturbing in a way, but that’s not what this is about. It’s not forcing an idea on people. All it’s doing is creating familiarity with an idea, making the audience comfortable with a strange concept.

Comedians do it all the time – Jimmy Carr discusses this in a talk, how he builds a rapport with the audience at his shows, getting them used to his style of no-holds-barred comedy before ramping it up to its more shocking level.

Or take pop music. You might have noticed this phenomenon, when you hear a song and think it’s an old classic, only to discover that it actually just came out last month – but because you’ve been hearing it casually all this time it seems familiar. As if you had always known it.

That’s what WK did with Cravendale. They sowed seeds, and built an invisible rapport. That’s not just knowing your audience. That’s knowing audiences in general.

When you can make people understand your message before you’ve even said it, you’ve already won half the battle.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

What Happens in Vegas is Apparently Some Terrible Advertising

If you had to advertise Las Vegas, what would you say? What would be your tagline? What would be the brand truth you would be extolling?

Would it be the concept of sexual mistakes and regret and drugs and regret and gambling mishaps and regret? And regret?

Because it seems someone in the Las Vegas tourism board thinks that that’s the way to go.

“What happens here, stays here.” That’s the campaign lead line. Very much the essence of leaning in to a sleazy image.

If nothing else it’s a confusing move because everyone already knows that Las Vegas is that strange mix of glitz and distress. Repeating the message doesn’t tell you anything new, it doesn’t expand the market, it doesn’t make you think.

The variants on a theme just reinforce the banality. “Where your accent is an aphrodisiac”. Classy. Again leading with sex, and this time just retreading an old stereotype of the British accent in America. It’s as if they simply have nothing more to say.

Perhaps that’s just a reflection of Vegas as a city with shallow offerings, a one-trick-pony. But surely there must be more to say than that.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Enthusiam Sells, Or, Iguanas With Hats In Argentina

If you can’t be enthusiastic about what you’re selling, you can’t expect anyone else to be. But there’s an upside to that argument, which is that if you can be enthusiastic, if you can genuinely, strongly want your client to succeed, that enthusiasm is a powerful tool.

People sometimes talk mockingly about an ad’s passion for product X or service Y, as though there is something wholly artificial about advocating for a client’s work. Sure, it is true in some cases. There are plenty of agencies who just phone it in.

But genuine passion for the task at hand – communication – is not the same thing.

I used to work in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, on a street team selling tickets to shows. I was pretty good at it. The reason was that whatever act I was selling on a particular day, there was always something positive to say about it. I knew the acts, I knew their shows – and that’s what came across.

I would be full of energy, excited to tell people about this show because I saw it last week and it was amazing and the guy is really cool and has this story about the iguana with a hat in Argentina and the mermaids and – you get the idea.

Being a genuine advocate for these people made my sales pitch so much more effective. People can sense enthusiasm, and trust it when it seems genuine.

Which is why you have to find a genuine reason to be excited about your side.

Here’s a great example of runaway enthusiasm changing everything for a brand. Lurpak butter got the Wieden + Kennedy treatment a while ago, going from a backwards dairy spread to the face of great food in no time at all. Before, Lurpak was seen as old-fashioned, dull, unhealthy – the product of an older generation. Butter wasn’t cool. Lurpak wasn’t cool. And why should it be? It’s just butter.

But that’s not what W+K saw. They knew that any brand is what you make of it. And any brand can have a deep emotional connection – if you make it work.

Lurpak is just butter. But why shouldn’t it be cool?

W+K could have done a series of ads that said “Butter isn’t so bad, butter can be quite nice, Lurpak is a nice kind of butter”. But there’s no passion there, no emotional pull.

(Apart from anything else, I’ve been told that the word ‘nice’ is basically the advertising equivalent to veal.)

The solution was to be provocative – not to offend, but to take a stance. It may only be butter, but it is reclaiming its place in the kitchen, and doing so with no apologies for itself.

“Good food deserves Lurpak.”

And there’s the key. The ads themselves are beautiful, engaging pieces of communication. But what makes them work is the brand identity behind them. Because it’s not about what Lurpak is – it’s about what Lurpak means. That is an emotional question, not one based on statistics. And thanks to Wieden + Kennedy, Lurpak now means great food, and pride in great cooking. And everyone knows it.

That’s the lesson here. There are no limits on which products can have an emotional pull. So find the emotion, find the passion behind your brand, and let everyone know it.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Variety is the Spice of Swimwear Ads

This is a quick one, because it’s a simple thought. On the walls around escalators, especially in the Tube, there are often diagonal rows of digital ad screens. And a lot of the time it’s only one brand that is controlling the entire ride.

Which is effective, it drills in a message. But what baffles me is that very often at somewhere like Oxford Circus, where there is naturally a strong tendency for clothing ads, the ads themselves are not ads. They are ad. And by that I mean there’s only one, repeated on all the screens.

I just don’t see the point. Did they run out of money for extra images? Then how are they affording this prime real estate? Is it intentional?

That’s the big question. Because if it’s intentional, colour me unimpressed with their media team. We’re talking H&M here. It’s not Versace. It’s not bloody haute couture. Using one single product is not an artistic statement. Or an iconic way of staying in the mind.

It’s a waste of space. What you want is to be showing off your range, drawing the viewer in, letting them see what you can do and whether there might be an option just for them.

So use media to the best effect. Digital media and massed screens are a powerful tool – powerful in their potential for variety and versatility. Not making use of that is a waste – of money for you, and time for the rest of us.

(OK, so it wasn’t so quick. But you get my point.)