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.

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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?

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?