Earlier this week, Zeitgeist went along to the outskirts of Kensington to visit ad:tech, billing itself as the number 1 event for interactive marketing.
First up was Ed Elworthy, Brand Communications Director for Global Football at Nike. One of the more interesting points Mr. Elworthy made was in stating how little notice the company pays to consumer research, saying Nike never put anything in front of a research group. ‘Trust Your Gut’, the accompanying slide read. He paraphrased an oft-used epithet:
“A client uses research in the same way a drunk uses a lamppost; for support rather than illumination.”
Nike’s marketing needs no introduction; over the decades they have produced some of the most exhilarating and innovative adverts on television. Nike built its reputation on a brand built for runners, by runners. But there’s a disconnect between a brand that is all about people, and a brand that simply talks at you during ad breaks. The company certainly hasn’t rested on its laurels. During the 2010 World Cup, aside from producing the incredible Write the Future TV spot (below), the brand went further by setting up a football training centre in areas of less affluence to give people the opportunity to play and be taught who otherwise would never have the chance to kick around a ball in any organised way. This activation campaign says more about the brand than any of its glitzy commercials – beautiful and successful (in terms of awards) though they may be.
Moreover, this wasn’t the first time Nike had branched out from television and online. Its 10k runs in London, and North vs South attracted thousands of people and generated awares in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Who can forget the brand’s incredibly successful venture with Apple to produce Nike+? It was this strategic alliance that also inspired Nike to go ahead with The Grid, which encouraged runners everywhere in London to compete by racing from public phonebox to phonebox, dialling an access code and measuring time taken versus themselves and others. Holistically numbers were low, but among those who did take part, engagement was extremely high. Lastly, who can forget Nike’s greatest brand activation, that of Livestrong. Who would have thought rubber bracelets would become, for an astounding length of time, the zeitgeist manifest?
Next up was Euro RSCG London‘s CEO Russ Lidstone, whose presentation was entitled ‘Failing Forwards’. He suggested that failure, as long as it didn’t hurt the company and was contained and controlled, was a good thing, that we do not better ourselves unless we push ourselves first to limits that may have a breaking point, or may have multiple answers, some of which are wrong. He noted with interest how audiences are not to be segmented merely in terms of demographics, but also in terms of cultural viewpoints. The agency’s recent campaign for Chivas Regal seeks to raise the standing of the true gentleman, the honourable hero, etc. One of the images used in the TV spot was used for a separate print campaign, that of the firemen pictured below. In China the difficulty was that the firemen used for one of the ads just weren’t aspirational enough (not wearing nearly enough Prada, probably). This sets off issues of cultural tensions that surface when you are trying to appeal to a particular consumers based globally, who may or not be interested in your product.
Returning to the subject of mere demographics, Mr. Lidstone also noted the importance of awareness of frame of reference when dealing with those covetable young audiences. He showed an interesting slide of frames of reference, with a major event listed per year. Someone in their 40s, with their earliest memories at around 5 or 6, would be likely to remember the release of ‘Star Wars‘. A 16-year old today would probably have 9/11 as one of his or her earliest memories, and the recent 10-year memorial service would not have meant as much to them. He went on to talk about “advertising to manage social momentum”, noting how easy it is for your brand to lose its equity due to a misguided tweet or a grumpy consumer, alluding to the recent Topman debacle, as well as the fraudulent – not to mention hilarious – BP Global PR Twitter feed that sprang up in the wake of the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico last year. The feed at one point was being followed by 55,000 people, compared to BP’s official, paltry, 7,000. “Our brands lie naked in front of the consumer”, he emphatically summarised. They can find out anything about us; there is a greater need for brand humility. Hear, hear, says Zeitgeist, though we’re not sure if Tom Ford would agree.
From the October Zeitgeist…
Dedicated Zeitgeist readers will recall with sepia-toned whimsy the July issue where we highlighted the recent Domino’s case and the importance of a rapid and decisive damage limitation strategy to deal with an unexpected crisis. A couple of parties who may lament not being on our distribution list are the WWF and DDB Brasil who faced with the noble task of saving the worlds endangered species managed to antagonise a large number of potential donors with an insensitive campaign before embarking on a very public soap opera of denials, rebuttals and admissions in a marvellous example of how not to do things.
The fun started after DDB Brasil produced a print ad showing a large number of airliners pointing their noses at downtown Manhattan in an attempt to show how powerful nature is by contrasting the death tolls from the 2005 tsunami and 9/11.
What was overlooked on this work for the World Wildlife Fund is that the World Wide Web has a global reach and that there might be some people out there who wouldn’t take kindly to 9/11 being trivialised.
First a print ad appeared. It was produced on spec, said DDB Brasil, and never saw the light of day. Then it emerged it ran once in a local paper, whereupon Sergio Valente, president of DDB Brasil, reported “When I saw it, I said, ‘Stop running that ad’.”
DDB then admitted creating the print ad, but denied any involvement with the spot, which was curious as, one blog mentions, “the video’s intro features a title card with DDB Brasil’s name on it.
WWF “strongly condemn[ed]” the work that they said was unauthorised. The following day they reneged: their previous statement “may not have been completely accurate”.
The imbroglio was covered by curious amateur bloggers, dedicated advertising journals and major, respected broadsheets newspapers alike. Curiously, the ad, doubtless provocative, actually went unnoticed when it won an award which goes to show how the bungled reaction of two organisations fuelled the resulting furore. After all, this is certainly not the type of publicity WWF (unlike more risqué brands) would wish to court.
At least two lessons can be learned from this fiasco; If something goes wrong, apologise and take ownership immediately; and don’t create adverts belittling 9/11.