Pussy in your face

Oh I’m sorry, was that a bit much? Was I laying it on a bit thick? Perhaps you don’t mind that sort of language, in the privacy of your one-on-one encounter with your computer screen. I’m not too bothered about that either. But when it is blazoned across several large billboards in Wandsworth I raised an eyebrow. Pussy, for those of you who don’t know, is an energy drink. Its ‘brain-child’ Jonnie Shearer came up with the name ‘long before the product did’. Right. He has cited Richard Branson and his Virgin brand as key inspiration. You can see what he did there.. took a tongue-in-cheek word and pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable.  Richard Branson is actually firmly on board now (literally) and helps with the  branding side of things. Its a great marketing fairytale story, of a grubby little idea hitting the big leagues hard.


The only problem is that it is insulting and crass (to me – woman). I envision a bunch of blokes hanging out, sniggering about “drinking pussy” and such like. Its so crude it hurts. Pussy, Virgin.. where are the emasculating brands? Perhaps a shoe brand called Dick might find leverage somewhere.

I’ve read some interesting things about testosterone levels decreasing in men over the last few decades* and wonder if these sort of ideas are demonstrable flails at the waning of manliness. Perhaps. But what I can tell you from a female perspective, is that a drink called Pussy does not empower women. For Jonnie Shearer to come up with the association with Virgin as being the only reason why he chose the name is is weak. Its one of those throwback ideas, not good on paper, but that actually MADE IT ON PAPER. What! What’s the reasoning behind choosing a word derogatory to the female sex for a product mostly targeted and consumed by the male gender? I find it disrespectful and setting a bad example to the kids. I don’t want to hear some kid on the bus boasting about how tasty Pussy is. And what the hell is a parent going to answer to their child’s question “what’s a pussy?” — “well dear, it is a derogatory term for a vagina, that can also be used to describe someone as weak or pathetic”. Fantastic. Thank-you Jonnie Shearer, I hope your kids are proud of their old Dad.

Go on son

*Here’s something to whet your whistle..


Got wings?

Red Bull are doing it right. Their most recent marketing exercise has raised the bar literally to stratospheric heights for brands. Red Bull Stratos saw Austrian base jumper Felix Baumgartner leaping out at the edge of the universe to skydive to earth at over 800 miles per hour to land with a skip on his feet. History was made and I watched it live, holding my breath, through the internet (and it cost me nothing). But this was not just ordinary brand sponsorship – not tagging your name onto something big enough that you will get recognised (even if it is a completely unfitting relationship, see Cadbury’s contentious Olympics 2012 sponsorship..) – but Red Bull’s own project.

The brand has been ahead of the game and pioneering event ownership for a while. Their most well-known Flugtag began in 1992. The premise of the event is for punters to enter an engineless ‘craft’ that they will jettison off from a ledge to see how far they can ‘fly’, accompanied with a goofy, comic voiceover to emphasise the hilarity and foolishness – but good fun – of the event. This never appealed to me.

The Red Bull product – a sickly, highly sugared energy drink which contains the unpalatable taurine, has traditionally been associated with clubbing and going out to have fun, as opposed to being a sports drink. This has steered the product towards the comic, as well as being dominated by their strapline Red Bull gives you wings.

But now Red Bull has gotten serious. The Stratos event was on a completely different playing field. Records were being broken. Lives and reputations were put on the line, real-time, to a global audience. And (thank our “guardian angel“) they delivered. Through live footage, Red Bull permitted almost total access to the undertaking and I felt privileged to be part of it – even if I am not a consumer of the product, I am now a fan of the brand. Of course there are critics that say that the event had no real scientific merit. But why should science own the skies? Richard Branson is already well on his way to taking punters to space.

Fundamentally I want to applaud Red Bull for engaging with their heritage in new ways and for entertaining consumers. Big brands make so much money and have such a great impact that it feels right that they should be raising the stakes in terms of engagement – in a  sound and brand-faithful way. Congratulations to Felix for this incredible feat. He is a hero, thanks to Red Bull.

Brandalism: now that’s what I’m talking about.

Rolling through Vauxhall one glum (July) morning last week, something caught my eye through the rain-spattered glass of my commuter train: a Go Compare billboard advertisement with black spray paint furiously scrawled across it in large letters after the go compare “GET SOME SINGING LESSONS”, verbalising what I think we have all thought at one time or another (perhaps in less polite words than I would like to say publicly) about this irritatingly successful brand, who have enjoyed their successes through drilling ghastly Italian ‘mockera’ into the public’s brains’.

The billboard I saw looked a little like this…

For a second I questioned the validity of the scrawl. Perhaps Go Compare were playing a joke on themselves? Trying a new way to win customers through self-deprecation? My thinking was put to rights however, when Campaign reported on the activities of the succinctly-named ‘Brandalists’. I have not been as excited about graffiti since Banksy’s early days – and truthfully graffiti hasn’t really been making a splash of late. Mostly quiet on the  paste-up and stencil front. Reportedly, 26 artists, including Banksy collaborator Paul Insect have been waging guerilla warfare on the UK’s billboards, much in the same way that brands themselves act..

Banksy’s art is all about universal truths – mostly Western society’s ills – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was masterminding this movement. It is no coincidence that this is occurring in the run-up to the London Olympics. It is well-known how hard the ASA are clamping down on anyone who is not an Olympic sponsor. Not to mention the rumours about brands dodging ‘Olympic tax’. The whole event is a microcosm of our current times: the rich and powerful are trampling all over everyone and having a jolly affluent time doing it, and the poor and weak are struggling. Then come the rebels – the rejects – to say ‘f**k you all’. We are a nation divided: between those who are part of the celebrations and are being rewarded subsequently (even if it is just having a ticket to an Olympic event in one’s sticky paw – a Coca-Cola™ – official premier tier LOCOG sponsor – in the other), and those that have been rejected or will suffer because of the proceedings, for example, couriers, who can’t even park on the side of the road to get their deliveries done (for fear of blocking the unmentionable Olympic Lanes), unless they were wealthy enough to sponsor, a la UPS. Not to mention the punters. The economy is on its knees – no-one is moving anywhere, expect backwards, maybe. Our expectations have had to drop drastically. Once upon a time, a certain Labour government encouraged young people to get university degrees, promising them a career path at the end of it. Well, as a despondent reminder of how that fantasy worked out, I watched a news edit today about an architectural graduate who is scraping a living as a potterer.

So yes, we’re cynical and its actually a pleasure seeing the defacement of the big, bloated, overpriced commercial brands whose campaigns are squeaky-clean, jargon-filled, bland and repetitive as hell, getting a smack back in the face from the quite frankly, bored consumer-public. Roll on the Olympics (to get it over with)! I mean, how the hell can I get involved actually, apart from having to deal with the additional 3 million journeys a day in the city? By having a jolly old chuckle and sticking up my two fingers, that’s what.

/Edit/ Ok so I have just been informed that the Go Compare ‘brandalism’ was actually intentional.. well, I would have to say that was very bold and clever. Though, bad timing for  Go Compare. See more superior work by the brandalists.

Everyday Value? I’m suspicious….

As a supermarket consumer on the lower-half of the professional income food chain, I do tend to purchase the kind of goods in-store familiarly known by terms such as ‘value’ or ‘basics’ (I stay away from chicken though: those breasts may look plump, but really they are pumped full of water. Yeuch). Believe me, most of the goods are as decent as the branded items. If you didn’t know this already, then you clearly need a few lessons in branding and the power of this industry*.

Last week however, I was browsing in my local Tesco Metro for their Value yoghurt and the familiar white pack with blue stripes and details had vanished. In its stead was an attractive monochrome pack with rows of little illustrations relating to yoghurt, its milky origins and the activity of eating it.

Surely you must have seen this style campaigned by now – it is on billboards, tv ads and digital marketings everywhere. At that moment however, I was unfamiliar with this packaging and looked around to compare my yoghurt with the other available brands. I realised that this truly was the cheapest and appeared to be of the original ‘Value’ price. I was suspicious though; working in branding I know that traditionally supermarkets don’t like to spend any money on their budget ranges. Waitrose being the trendsetter last year, however, with their watercolour illustrations on-pack.

So are we witnessing a new trend? Supermarkets willing to spend more on their packaging (but believe me, less on their design agencies…), perhaps in the time of this double-dip recession to make consumers feel less self-conscious about their basic, bland and budget buys. Tesco’s guerilla marketing campaign has certainly worked to solidify in my mind that the Everyday Value range is their budget line, but the packaging is far more pleasing. After all, I am a consumer myself and can be swayed by aesthetics. Next time you’re in Tesco, take a look at the Everyday Value packaging. Each product has a different, charming story. I will be keeping an eye on the prices though… I’m still suspicious…


*I will be happy to give those uneducated a run-down..

Let’s pull our socks up, shall we?

Yesterday, I was dropping off some business mail in the local Waterloo post office at around 5pm when the postman came marching in with what can only be described as a ‘swagger’. He winked at me and said hello. I smiled back at this neon yellow tabard-wearing individual and tried to place him. I turned to the chap serving me at the counter and said, “is he the postman? I thought postmen wore uniforms…” He chuckled and shook his head. I’m guessing that was a ‘no’ then.

Now I can’t quite work out when Royal Mail postmen stopped looking like postmen. And I just can’t get the image of Postman Pat out of my head, with his smart cap and shiny buttons. This might come across as snobbish, but that postman from yesterday’s encounter was a slob. He was wearing his own Nike sports trainers, some grubby tracksuit bottoms, a shapeless fleece and a grimy old yellow tabard with ‘Royal Mail’ smeared across the back, with several coloured lanyards swinging around his neck. I was horrified. I know the Royal Mail has had a tough time over the last few years – the increasing digitisation of the universe has meant that mail is becoming ‘frankly’, obsolete. Not to mention the shocking documentaries of ‘what goes on inside the sorting office’: bandit postmen helping themselves to inviting-looking packages and bulging envelopes.

Instead of vans, many postmen have to drag around pathetic-looking trollies, which usually have only 2 or 3 wheels if any. I have a friend who was a postman, now he is working a desk job in the sorting office and is much happier for it. Most recently, the astronomical increase of First Class stamp prices have meant that the Royal Mail are enduring yet another public backlash.

But what I can’t understand, is how the idea of a uniform has broken down so badly. I am a big fan of the uniform, actually. I have always worn one in school – even in my 6th form. The idea of a uniform is to allow the individual to focus on the task at hand and not suffer in their environment because without a uniform, what a person’s clothing or hair or general appearance says about them can be judged. We use our appearance to define who we are – how we are different from one another. A uniform prevents this from happening and also serves to protect and allow you to ‘belong’. And yet I did exactly that to that postman yesterday – I judged him – not because he was representing himself personally, but because he was letting down his company by his sloppy appearance.

This year more than ever, the powers that be (governmental, council, brand…) of the United Kingdom are championing national and city pride in advent of the Olympics. Just this week, Procter & Gamble launched a global campaign to ‘tidy up our flat – that is, London’. They will be cleaning away graffiti and planting flowers etc. No doubt several areas are going to get a good hosing and a lick of fresh paint. So why can’t our national representatives also get scrubbed up?

Less of this:

..and more of this, please:

An (advertising) accident waiting to happen.

As a resident of Battersea I travel through Nine Elms everyday. Now, for those of you that don’t know, this is the site of the infamous Battersea Power Station – a majestic, iconic building that has been lying derelict for many years. The immediate area is a wasteland – the space of which is hard to come by so near to central London – but in turn this means lots and lots of sky space for advertising boards. Big boards. I have heard them referred to as the ‘big 5’ or 7 or something… They are clustered around the strip just in front of the power station and agencies make the most of the space with some punchy campaigns. Recently, Wieden + Kennedy for Lurpak – the ‘food rainbow’ arched up and over the board itself.

Most notably, the controversial Reebok ‘Reetone’ campaign which featured the bodacious body of Kelly Brook (whose brazen curves I had to endure for weeks in the summer of 2010…). This campaign was reported to have actually caused road accidents, by lascivious male drivers hanging out of their windows to catch a glimp of Brook’s 40-foot lady humps. The Daily Mail reported on this and oh look! There she is, with the power station looming in the background…

So we know exactly where those boards were. Its lucky I didn’t get mown down on my bicycle by some salivating white van man..

So, what instigated this observation? Currently the boards are sporting another driving hazard campaign for a car brand that sports long sentences, with some key consonants removed. SOMWHT LKE THS. Now, being a passenger yesterday, I could give these messages some decryption, but if a driver starts wrapping his brains (literally) around these boards, who knows what could happen.

I enjoy the innovative use of space, but perhaps they should call it ‘Rear-Ending Lane’ or something.