Brands with purpose; the story do far

‘Brands with purpose’ were all the rage for about twenty minutes or so.  Unilever said it was the right thing to do.  So obviously it was the right thing to do.

Then came Pepsigate.  An overzealous attempt to appropriate a world of virtuous resistance against all the evil in the world, while simultaneously calling for world peace, racial harmony and please can we all just start being nice to each other again.  Remember the anti-Vietnam war poster with the girl putting the flower in the barrel of the soldier’s gun?  Except Pepsi misjudged the popular mood and was ridiculed.

My own view is that, while Pepsi’s attempt to tap into this ‘purpose’ was pretty woeful, it wasn’t so much worse than a lot of other work from other brands who just about got away with it.  Pepsi didn’t have any credits in the bank here (as opposed to Coke for example who do) so once social media turned against them, the hole just got deeper and deeper.  Before they knew it, they were a laughing stock and had to withdraw the advertisement in question.  This in turn made them headline news and so doubly a laughing stock.

Harsh but fair.

This debacle has spawned a host of ‘told you so’ coverage.  Most of it is simply accountable to people wanting to score points by dancing on Pepsi’s grave (who wouldn’t?)  I’ve seen lots of other corporate pap which is equally risible, but escaped with barely a word of censure (special mention here for Hewlett Packard’s corporate video).

But I did quite enjoy this:

Moving on, in the wake of Pepsigate, brands should be getting very wary of doing the vision thing.  This idea for Heineken was, presumably, too far advanced to pull out.  In a worlds where Pepsi is ridiculed, this shouldn’t work either.  But it does.  Why?

Two reasons:

  1. Heineken is a brand we like.  It has a history of entertaining us and being witty.  It’s not explicitly a crusading brand (like say, Dove whose influence is very evident here) but it’s well-meaning enough to be credible.
  2. The craft.  It’s very nicely done.

That’s my opinion today.  If it gets lambasted and withdrawn tomorrow, I will of course disown all of this and claim I was being ironic.

And you fell for it right?

Food Dancing

This feels like an important new development in the world of advertising.  After a billion years settled at the home of all things grown up and civilised – AMV – Sainsbury recently moved its advertising to the home of all things yoof -Wieden & Kennedy.

The result is ‘Food Dancing’.  On first viewing, it feels a bit like a student’s speculative reel for his first proper advertising job interview.  One or two visual cliches have sneaked in when no-one was looking.  Overall though, it does just what the nice but mundane supermarket needed – it gives it an injection of fun energy.  On reflection, I think I’m a fan.


All swap clothes for Christmas

Christmas is coming and that means one thing.  Lots of new retail advertising.  Here’s the newest entrant – it’s House of Fraser, brought to you by an agency I much admire – 18 Feet and Rising:

I have to admit I rather like it.  But here’s my misgiving.  It’s a Marks & Spencer ad.  Everything about it screams M&S except the logo.  Which is a bit tricky.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the new M&S Christmas commercial:

It’s also quite nice (though I’m not overwhelmed).  Except for one thing.  Like many advertisers, the client appears to have gone to their agency and said: “Please give me a John Lewis ad”.  And unlike most agencies, they have done exactly that.

So House of Fraser is now morphing into M&S who are, for their part, impersonating John Lewis.

So it’s like a weird version of retail clothes swapping.  Or one of those bizarre questions that crop up in philosophy tutorials about how much of your brain you can merge into another entity before you become them or they become you.

Maybe that’s what they mean by Shwopping.



This Girl Can

One of advertising’s favourite themes of the last couple of years has been female empowerment.  The campaigns for Sport England ‘This Girl Can’ and P&G’s Always ‘Like a Girl’ were much-lauded and they hoovered up a load of awards.  The awards weren’t just for creativity.  There were also PR awards and both campaigns won Gold at the Account Planning Group awards for creative strategy.

I particularly like the Sport England campaign.  It’s the kind of long-term thinking which characterised the best Central Office of Intelligence (COI) campaigns, before its sad destruction by the politicians.

I’m struck by the irony – that is the actual irony rather than in the Alanis Morissette sense – that the industry was subsequently plunged into an intense bout of flagellation over whether women were unfairly treated in the industry.  This culminated in all that unpleasantness with Gustavo Martinez at JWT and Kevin Roberts at Publicis Groupe.

As far as the advertising is concerned, I find it easier to be impressed by the Indian Nike campaign below, which seems to have a more direct relationship with achieving a tangible marketing goal.  In this case, selling sports kit to athletic women.

And frankly it was about time Nike did some really good advertising again.

The Tale of Tom

I fear I may have to revise my preconceptions of fashion retail marketing.  Many years ago I worked briefly for one of Burberry’s agencies and I confess I became rather sceptical.  The brand’s presentation seemed a bit one-dimensional, and a bit too much like every other high-end fashion brand.  So I was interested to see their new Christmas film.  The title makes it sound like something written by Beatrix Potter, but I have to say I rather like it.

Nice. But what’s the strategy?


It seems ultra churlish to criticise the work Grey has done for the UNHCR.  But I’m going to anyway.

It’s a nice film highlighting the IOC team of ‘Stateless’ refugee Olympians.  It’s a good cause – these are people who have endured extreme hardships and it’s great to see them celebrated in this way.  Isn’t it?  Well yes but….

Let’s be hard-headed about this for a moment.  What is the film looking to achieve?  It must have cost a couple of hundred grand to make.  So, what’s the ROI?  The words ‘sign the petition’ appear on screen for most of the duration.  What petition?  And what will the petition achieve?  What am I supposed to do?  How will that help?  How many refugees will enjoy a better life because of our response?

In the old world where we talked about advertising, sometimes we also talked about objectives and strategy.  Bit old fashioned now.  We sometimes used a shorthand “”.

Embarking on a  communications campaign, a neat start point was to describe the strategy  in this way; get (a group of people, typically defined in a way to identify what makes them our target) to (take a particular action – like maybe buy our stuff, make a donation, put us on their shopping list) by (effecting a change – like shifting their opinions or telling them something they didn’t know already in a way that provokes a change in behaviour).

When you watch a piece of content, it should be possible, with a little imagination, to work backwards and post-rationalise the get-to-by behind it.  That’s where the UNHCR film – like so many well-intentioned campaigns for good causes – fails.  There’s nothing I’m going to do as a result of watching this film which will improve the plight of refugees, nothing that will strengthen UNHCR’s hand in improving their lot and nothing that will contribute to covering the substantial costs of making that film.  Sorry, it’s an indulgence.

It’s made worse by the fact that Grey has a bit of previous here.  Grey Singapore’s I SEA app  won a Cannes Lion this summer but caused sufficient outrage to make them return it to the organisers.  It was described as “an app that crowd-sources the search of the sea for migrants by giving access to the satellite image of the sea to smartphone users.” But if you logged on, there was nothing there.  Nothing.  It appeared to be a nice idea, but the reality was bogus.

We need to stop talking about Kevin

There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on in the advertising industry, after Kevin Roberts’ inexplicable (unless you knew him) faux pas.  In case you hadn’t heard, he used an interview with a business publication to say there’s no problem with diversity in the advertising industry.  Turns out he was trying to drum up notoriety to sell his forthcoming book.

In the ensuing weeks, much has been written about the need for more enlightened attitudes to diversity and more generally, progressive attitudes to gender roles.  Unilever have been seen to be leading the way in this – as with various issues to do with fairness, ethics and sustainability.

A good example is Lynx.  The old campaign, ‘The Lynx Effect,’ made by BBH was based on the compelling insight ‘teenage boys are desperate for sex.’  It was one of the greatest and most successful of all time.  The new one ‘Find Your Magic’ by 72 and Sunny is nice too, but so much more ‘respectable’ it gives me one of those ambivalence headaches.  I want to love it – and it’s got lots to commend it; it’s clever, well-observed, witty and so on.  But will it be as effective as The Lynx Effect?  I have a nagging doubt.

I am also reminded of the circularity of everything.  Older readers may remember that in the early 1980s, we saw the emergence of the phenomenon known as ‘The New Man’.  I believe it was coined in the Washington Post, reviewing Dustin Hoffman’s (excellent) cross-dressing comedy, Tootsie.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the New Man was someone “who rejects sexist attitudes and the traditional male role, esp. in the context of domestic responsibilities and childcare, and who is (or is held to be) caring, sensitive, and non-aggressive”.  Sound familiar?

As so often, it appears to have taken us thirty years to rediscover something we already knew.  For that, Kevin, we thank you.