Getting the social media thing right.

Unfortunately, in the current economic landscape, brands can’t afford to be seen as living in a fantasy world. Many consumers are conscious of their own situation and don’t like to see the brands they trust – the brands they support by purchasing their products – abusing this.

Cadbury’s ‘Chocolate Thumb‘ has made me anxious. You can see what the thought behind this marketing stunt has been – give something back to the social media consumers – in a language they will understand, via the medium of the Like thumb on Facebook. The video is in a contemporary ‘behind-the-scenes’ style – not just the finished product but the build and creation, plus a touch of the quirky and characterful with some wobbly moments, if not a little staged (lots of purple everywhere). Once the glorious thumb has been built and the final touch added by ‘Superfan’ Denise, that’s just sort of..it. There is something in the video that channels Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and the fantasy of a giant thumb made out of chocolate would surely inspire a delighted response from children. But this campaign surely can’t have been directed at such a young consumer group – after all only 10% of Facebook users are 13 to 17 year-olds.

The campaign by Lurpak for their new product Lurpak Lightest displays a massive rainbow of foods, cresting over the butter product. At first I presumed this was computer-generated, but after a little research, discovered that it had been completely crafted. Aesthetically it is remarkable, yet initially I wasn’t allowed to enjoy this, held back by my inner-conscience, thinking ‘the waste!!’. A statement released by agency Wieden + Kennedy completely put my mind at rest and more:

“The rainbow featured in the print campaign was lovingly constructed by hand – there is no camera trickery involved. It was created by set designer Nicola Yeoman and her team, and photographed by Dan Tobin-Smith. Built over three days, the structure comprised of more than 60 types of fresh produce.  None of the food used to create the rainbow went to waste either.  The produce from the shoot was given away to award- winning UK charity, Fareshare, who were able to put the food to good use through community dinners.”

I understand that the problem with chocolate is that it is not as readily washable as vegetables are, and perhaps I’m over-exaggerating in feeling uncomfortable, expecting Cadbury to do something with the 3 tonnes of confectionary used to craft this giant thumb, but you can’t deny the backlash. One youtube viewer said, “wast.of.time.and.food” and another, “Would it not have been MUCH better to reward all the fans by sharing that chocolate out amongst them?!”. Negative discourse initiated by a brand’s own actions is unhealthy and exactly what you want to avoid when trying to engage with your consumer through social media.

So what can we learn from this? That many of today’s consumers are suspicious of frivolity, even when directed as a friendly, ‘down with the kids’ approach. Social media speaks to any age group that is engaged and spreads the word far more quickly than any medium ever previously used. Not only this, but users feel empowered and ‘invincible’, speaking often anonymously from behind their screens.

How can Cadbury work with this response? Perhaps continue to position themselves as the ‘builder of chocolate dreams’ and push for fantasy over reality as we have so little escapism these days as it is. After all, 3 tonnes of chocolate is hardly going to feed a starving nation is it?

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A bright idea.

Tropicana has proved itself to be the “sunshine juice” in a new marketing execution aimed at bringing the sun to dreary, grey London (and oh how we need it right now!) in collaboration with art collective Greyworld. A large orb has been erected in Trafalgar Square, as if the column had finally decided to bear fruit. Lit up at (what should be) sunrise and sunset, it glows majestically over the square. I have yet to see it, but you can watch a video at http://www.tropicana.co.uk and see passing faces lit up by its radiance.

The reason why this resonates so well with me is that it echoes an installation by Olar Eliasson held at the Tate Modern a few years ago – an artwork that rose out of a common language known to all of us: the weather. Oh how we run to the sun when we are lucky enough to see its glowing face in the northern hemisphere! Despite being one of the most economically and socially developed countries in Europe, Sweden has the highest suicide rate on the continent, purely because they suffer so many dark days. Light has a special place in the world of the seeing – it has biblical, spiritual and life giving power. Artists do beautiful things with light. Dan Flavin, James Turrell and even Tracey Emin.

A friend spoke to me animatedly about the Tropicana stunt, calling it an “installation” – typically a term used these days to describe a work of art in situ, working with its environment. This observation is spot on. The Tropicana marketing team’s decision to recreate the sun in Trafalgar Square is no coincidence: home to the National and National Portrait Galleries, as well as the Fourth Plinth space allies it with art. Now, if I was writing critically about art, I would probably be up in arms about this campaign, as one YouTube viewer sniffily commented, “My, did my heart sink when I got to the “part of Tropicana’s Brighter Mornings campaign.” I guess we can’t have art for art’s sake in public anymore without a corporate sponsor.“, but I appreciate Tropicana’s nod to the arts and enlightened vision of what its British consumers really want.

The brilliant thing about Tropicana, is that it in its past it has really reflected the 3-dimensionality of the orange: previous packaging had an orange with a straw rammed deep into its pulp. You can imagine holding it and taking a big gulp of refreshing juice (bits or no bits, as preferred). Although the packaging has had a sour turn or two, the current marketing strategy brings the tangibility back to the juice. It is a big, bold move that outstrips the competition for innovation.

Perhaps now it is time for Tropicana to take another bold step and revisit its packaging?

Contentious Contributors

Over the last 12 months, we have seen some of Britain’s biggest brands positioning themselves alongside the Olympics.

In order for the status of the sponsorship to work both ways, the brands involved have explored ways to harness the timely impact of this temporal union through campaigns specifically inspired by the event, thematic slogans about teamwork and sportsmanship or just but adapting the apparently adaptable 2012 logo (some working better than others, for example not the case of UPS’s jarring pink-on-brown adaptation).

 Such activity has been monitored by the ASA and there have been cases of wrist-slapping, especially for brands not officially sponsoring the Olympics, yet cashing in on the sports terminology being bandied about so frequently lately in advertising campaigns. As of November (2011), a new conviction for marketers pushing ‘marketing ambushes’ next summer during the Olympics could be as serious as resulting in a criminal conviction.

As earlier stated, the figures speak for themselves: the Olympics are welcoming sponsorship from any quarter and have tiered these partners into three categories based on their contribution: Domestic Tier One Partners, Domestic Tier Two Supporters and Domestic Tier Three Providers and Suppliers. From sportswear brands to banks and travel companies, there is a wide range of partners. There are also fast food names and confectionary companies involved, such as global giant McDonalds and (what was, until 2010) our very own Cadbury (now owned by the American confectionary, food and beverage conglomerate Kraft Foods).

What I find contentious in the partnership of these brand giants with ‘the’ paragon of sports events is their message. Over the years the damage to the United Kingdom’s health service due to obesity and further health problems in the population from bad eating habits among both children and adults has increased. Yet a Domestic Tier One Partner, such as Cadbury, who has bought themselves the highest level of partnership with the Olympics can therefore use their partnership with this global event with the most freedom. And Cadbury have been doing so. Their ‘Spots v Stripes’ campaign launched back in March (2011) with a series of adverts depicting two sides – Spots or Stripes – competing against one another in some fantastical tag team-type game – clearly aimed at children – with no apparent resolution and certainly no clear connection to any particular Cadbury product.

 

I remember my first question being, ‘When will I see this ‘Spots v Stripes’ bar in the shops?’ This skewed and confusing method of advertising befuddles the viewer, many of whom already have a relationship with the brand and have been impressed in recent years by other adverts which, although they have nothing to do with chocolate itself (such a level of confidence the brand now has in itself), ‘A Glass and a Half Full’ productions have successfully ridden a wave of online social media fanaticism through viral sharing of these adverts on YouTube etc.

But the ‘Spots v Stripes’ campaign is not another gorilla poetically banging a drum kit, but a demonstration of the relationship between a chocolate bar and healthy sports activity. Oh, really?

Today, at spotsvstripes.com you are greeted with a banner that says in a friendly, corporate-social-responsibility-for-the-masses tone, “We’re on a mission to get the UK playing in the lead up to London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games”. The site offers ‘players’ the chance to win tickets to the Olympic games by taking part in your own games and uploading the scores to the site. Suggested games, clearly targeted at young children include, ‘Sock Bowling’, ‘Rip Off’ (see how many pieces you can rip a used piece of A4 paper into) and ‘Longest Whistle’ (‘take a deep breath and get whistling’), among others. Now for an adult with an industry-aware take on marketing, I find this one lazy and manipulative. Cadbury have dressed up a website with all the colourful bells and whistles – pop-ups, flash and downloads – that a brand giant like themselves can afford, but a genuine encouragement towards sports activities – across all ages – is totally missing.

Noelle McElhatton, Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine constructively comments if the ‘Spots v Stripes’ campaign, “Where is the strategy? Where is the idea? Well, Cadbury thinks it is onto a winner … The question is, does it have enough talkability and playfulness to engage its audience online? With some 480 days to the opening ceremony, the jury is very much still out. Cadbury may have taken its eye off the ball, becoming more excited about the medium than the message.” Exactly, but more than that, they should be working doubly, triply as hard to promote the message of healthy sports activity… or can they? On the flipside, if an ostensibly unhealthy confectionary-producing brand is allying itself with sports, eyebrows will be raised and loyalty to the brand will be lost. So Cadbury have apparently played it safe and opted for a middle ground.

Fundamentally I feel that the Olympics Organising Committee of any country have a social responsibility – beyond that, any country’s advertising standards agency has a responsibility to protect citizens from mixed messages. Any brand that does not contribute directly to the games themselves shouldn’t be allowed to promote their partnership. McDonalds’ claim, ‘Feeding the Olympic spirit for over 40 years’ – fuelling athletes and fans alike (really?) – is nauseating enough and controversial enough, yet not actively controlled. These brands are so powerful and so wealthy, they can afford to butt out of areas in which they are indirectly contributing damage towards and should be made to.

So next summer, if you find yourself in the Olympic village with a Big Mac in one hand and a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Bar in your back pocket, you’ll know who to blame.

(Originally written as a piece of research for Hilda Smith)

“There’s something for everyone! At M&M’s World”…

Dining in the West End last night, I passed by the the new W Hotel (which smells of London sewers by the way), that shares its posterior with the unmissable new Leicester Square attraction: M&M’s World. I just had to go inside to experience for myself such a curious new wonderland – the theme of which is based on a ‘candy’ that isn’t even very popular in the UK. I’ve certainly never seen any M&M adverts. No, the M&M’s definitely belong to our bigger than big, brasher than brash American ‘cousins’.

Inside are no less than four levels of such an intense explosion of colour, light and plastic, its as if Barney has done a technicolour yawn. There is ‘merchandise’ everywhere, of every conceivable item of crud that you could possibly want, but with a definitively ‘British’ slant: teapots featured heavily, alongside stuffed toys, T-shirts and even M&M luggage straps (for your M&M luggage, surely…).

‘Where are the sweets?’ I hear you say. Where indeed! Well, we finally discovered them, tucked away in the bowels of M&M World – every colour of the rainbow and some mixed selections of  pleasing colours, such as the ‘Royal Mix’ in purples, greys and lilac. We decided to get some and filled up 3 bags.

Making our way to the till, we were greeted by four grinning shop assistants – Red, Blue, Yellow and Blue. “Oh whoever shall we choose!” We went with Yellow, aka Vicky.

“And what flavour are you Vicky?” we quipped.

“I’m fine, thank-you” Vicky drawled, in her M&M programmed way, clearly not hearing the joke over the booming cheesy (British) pop music.

We shuffled out pretty sharpish, passing under the hull of a routemaster bus. It was a pretty mind-blowing experience, and one that left us £20 lighter (!!) but weighted down with M&M’s the density of a newborn baby: the dispenser system for the sweets themselves seemed to have no measuring gauge and I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to try my luck with saying I ‘didn’t want’ all those sweets.. no fear! Its no real hardship, though. Those little chocolate-covered peanuts are true kernels of delight..!

So why do we have an M&M World is my real question. It certainly isn’t an attraction for natives. Having our Union flag, love of tea and red buses rammed down our throats is nauseating at the best of times. No, nestled in the bosom of London, M&M World is clearly a tourist attraction – for those visiting London – erected just in time for the biggest and most hyped event in recent history: London 2012.

I give it 18 months.

[edit]

After posting my initial reactions of M&M’s World (‘bowled over’), I have had a few interesting discussions with colleagues and friends about the concept of a brand ‘world’. Although I personally find the concept a little dated and targeted at a narrow market, there is definitely room for something new. I mean, why M&M’s World? Why not Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in central London? I would definitely go to that. Lickable Wallpaper, Chocolate River? Yes please…! Any brand guardian considering entering into this area of marketing should consider M&M’s World as a good example of what not to do and should challenge the concept.