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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