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..


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:

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?

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)

Lyons: A Very, Very British Institution

A sleeping giant, Lyons is a heritage brand with a vast untapped, latent potentiality. Any British consumer from the age of 40 up will have strong associations, even fond memories with the brand. That is a huge market – a generation far more resistant to change, but erstwhile in constant search of the familiar.

But to make the most of it, Premier Foods need to define Lyons’ portfolio: this brand has a rich and diverse history behind it: from tearooms to game-changing computer hardware, it has been on quite a journey. Today the Lyons brand clings on to the remaining threads of its Tearoom heritage: Battenburgs and Swiss Roll cakes, jostling for space at the far end of the supermarket bakery shelf, relying on a passing consumer to recognise the name.

This teatime function has been seen as a dying ritual. Yet its longevity is a testament to the British love of a die-hard habit. Furthermore, afternoon tea is a British institution – it’s what people the world over think. Lyons therefore has massive export potential. Also, the potential to be position itself as a brand that gives permission to the masses to be indulgent.

Premier Foods need to identify where the strongest Lyons memory lies: does this include the tea rooms? – There is no equivalent chain today but possibly EAT has studied the template. Lyons offer expressed a richer character and the restaurants were revolutionary at the time – a bright and clean look with a white fascia and grand gold lettering, exuding a wonderfully British personality. Here you reliably could get the British staples: a bowl of soup or a shepherd’s pie; a cup of tea and a slice of cake, cheaply, without eschewing quality. Possibly the fondest, quality memories exists with the Lyons Corner Houses, where a family could affordably and in some comfort, dine as a special treat before going out on the town or to the theatre.

If Lyons became a chain once again, it would benefit from taking its heritage of the past, and reworking it into a completely contemporary context – the old and new working together – to create something fresh and British that is so right for a nation whose high street is daily losing stable reminders of our heritage and the individuality that was once prevalent.

Some could argue that Lyons is a brand right at the end of its journey, but there is a strong emotional resonance that if tapped into, could revive a loyal consumer following. Lyons should examine leveraging their brand via a thorough audit to capture its Past, Present and Future. It should rigorously examine what’s been lost, what’s merely here for today, what remains useful in its armoury and most critically, distill the integral brand truth of what is sacrosanct about the Lyons brand?

With such a wealth of memories and brand ideas at his disposal, if Premier Foods’ brand manager Dean Lavender is really intent on giving Lyons “a bit more focus and love”, (Marketing Week) then perhaps with the right advice and the vision to say, ‘let’s go for it’, there could be a huge future for the return of this family brand. So we’ll ‘meet you at Joe Lyons’…