G|B|U of Christmas 2019

Commutes are getting quieter. The air is getting colder. Offices are slowing down ready for the holiday break. Christmas is well and truly upon us once again; bringing with it a whole host of traditions. While matching pyjamas or a “top – secret” family recipe for Christmas cake might be your most treasured tradition, there’s one that I hold very close to my heart.

The humble Christmas advert.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the fact, but it goes without saying that Christmas ads exist as a class of their own. Never am I, an advertising professional, more passionate about advertising than during the holiday season. 

They’re not all Christmas Crackers though, and so it’s time to bring back everyone’s favourite blog series: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 

The King of Christmas

Like last year, I’d like to consider the John Lewis Christmas advert as a festive elite. As one of the UK’s most revered Christmas traditions, we can’t review it on the same scale as any other Christmas ads. However, unlike last year when I chose to keep it separate because it was a fairly disappointing placement, John Lewis’ 2019 ad is perhaps my favourite of the crop.

Perhaps I relate to Excitable Edgar too much. Perhaps I have too broad of a definition of what counts as cute. I don’t care, I would die for that adorable little dragon. Every time I see the Twitter ads that stemmed from the original tv slot, my face lights up. It’s good to see TV placements forming the basis of bigger campaigns on other channels – not something I noticed as much in previous years.

Beyond the main character, I also really enjoy the message of the campaign. Edgar has a big heart and is just misunderstood. His friend loves him regardless of his actions, and finds him the perfect gift to let him use his skills for good. A wholesome, cute advert. Just what the doctor ordered. 

The Good

As we’ve seen with John Lewis, you can’t go wrong with a memorable character. That’s why I have a soft spot for Joules’ Christmas campaign which features two of the features of my childhood: Wallace and Gromit. Christmas is a time for nostalgia, and there’s something incredibly warm and fuzzy about seeing those two getting ready for Christmas. If I’m honest, I will actively seek this advert out to help put me in the holiday spirit and bring a bit of joy to my day.

Another highlight is the McDonald’s ad, an animation which sees young Ellie playing with Archie the Reindeer after her older sister Jenny declines to join in the fun. When Ellie runs out of “Reindeer treats” for Archie, the family (including her older sister) go to McDonald’s for more – where we see the animation switch to real life and find that Archie… well I won’t spoil it. This story is all about finding the joy of Christmas, watching as Jenny finds that spark again after seeing Ellie playing and drawing. It’s incredibly sweet, and the art style is gorgeous. A definite winner. 

The Bad

Alongside our Christmas crackers must also come our Christmas turkeys and there really are a few this year. The Peloton ad has already become infamous and needs no additional comment, but there are plenty of others on my naughty list this year.

Usually, I like the Tesco’s Christmas ad. They’re alright, I recognise the background music, they’re a solid middle ground. This year, I really didn’t enjoy the story and found myself switching off within a couple of seconds. Time-traveling delivery drivers brought nothing exciting to the table. Part of me knows I shouldn’t really have expected much more, but I’m disappointed none-the-less. 

The top spot on my naughty list, however, is reserved for IKEA’s Silence the Critics advert. Grime Rapper “D double E” voices tacky knick-knacks, in the hopes to outline how easy and quick it is to order new furniture just in time for guests to come over. While it does achieve its message, it misses the mark on what Christmas is about: enjoying what you have, whilst surrounded by loved ones. 

I have explicitly told my mother not to tidy for my holiday visit. I don’t care if the house is a mess, I just want to see her, and I really don’t want her stressing about the “state of the living room” for the next week. If your family and friends care about your house’s decor, you don’t need them in your life. Bad messaging IKEA. Expect nothing but coal in your stocking this year. 

The Ugly

I’ve decided that, as Christmas is a time for celebration, I won’t be doing the “ugly” this time. Instead, I’m going to highlight the ones that made me ugly-cry by highlighting the charitable work that brands are doing this holiday season. 

First on this list is Heineken’s Brewing Good Cheer, an initiative now in its fourth year. The company hosts events in pubs up and down the country, with this clip focusing on the staff of a food bank, and the residents at a dementia centre coming together for Christmas dinner – and a few surprises. It’s a lovely reminder of the importance of local community as well as the services that can often for its backbone.

Then there’s the Age UK campaign “No One Should Have No One To Turn To”, which raises awareness of the loneliness that comes with old age following a bereavement, or should they have to care for a loved one. Christmas can be an incredibly alienating time for this generation, and the Age UK billboard campaign does an amazing job of shedding some light on these difficult circumstances. 

Christmas is the most magical time of year not just because of the snow and the presents, but also because I think it can show how we all pull together and support one another in times of need. It gives us that little bit of light in a world that can too often seem dark. As you can see from my commentary – that’s what I like the most in my Christmas ads.

From our office to yours: Merry Christmas. 

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Super Bowl LIII

The Super Bowl is possibly the biggest advertising opportunity of the year, closely tied with Christmas ads. Super Bowl ads are a phenomenon apart from the actual game itself: a 30-sec spot would cost an advertiser $5.25 million, and that’s before they hired A-Listers to star in the ad.

With this much money behind them, it’s obvious why they stand in a league of their own. Sometimes, though, advertisers are more concerned with standing out amongst the other celebrities and flashing lights than producing something exceptional.

In this post-game haze, join me in the fantasy dreamland of Super Bowl ads as I lay out the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Super Bowl LIII.

The Good

Naturally, Super Bowl ads are a much higher quality than those at any other point of the year. Brands have bigger budgets, and audiences have bigger expectations. Never-the-less, there were a couple of ads that really stood out.

Amazon’s spot teeters on the line between good and phenomenal. It is saved by 10 seconds of pure genius: Alexa dog collars. Specifically: Harrison Ford’s Alexa dog collar. The concept behind the ad is failed Alexa integrations, with Alexa for Dogs being a definite fail. Ford’s tiny pupper can order dog food, gravy, and even sausages, just by barking. It was an ad that doesn’t take itself so seriously and it proved an overall crowd pleaser.

We’ve all heard the phrase. Many have come to dread it. “Is Pepsi okay?”. In their Super Bowl ad, Pepsi decided that it was time to reclaim the phrase in a loud and proud ad featuring Steve Carrell, Cardi B and Lil Jon.

After the ad was aired, the company then released a full-page piece thanking the people of Atlanta – long-standing Coke Country – for putting aside their differences and helping them to donate meals to people in need and ran a supporting Twitter campaign with the hashtags #PepsiSweepstakesOK #PepsiMoreThanOK. Cross channel advertising at its finest.

Finally comes an ad I didn’t expect to like, but I’m so glad I do. While one might have expected Bumble to have come up with something a lot more flashy, Serena Williams provides a welcome break with an inspirational spot encouraging viewers to make the first move. It’s an uplifting and timely piece that stands out amongst a crowd of loud and excitable ads.

The Bad

To say a Super Bowl ad is bad is simply to say that it is not as good as others. With huge budgets and clearly hours of creative time going into them, they still stand head and shoulders above the ads of the day-to-day. In context though, they aren’t up to snuff.

Olay put together a half-baked horror movie starring Sarah Michelle Geller, who can’t call for help because her phone won’t recognise her face thanks to her youthful looks courtesy of Olay’s products. An interesting concept in and of itself, but was frankly not long enough. Had Olay been more aware of the resources available to them, perhaps this might have been more effective and elicited more than eyerolls from this humble reviewer.

Burger King pulled footage from the archives for their spot to a lukewarm reception. Back in the 80s, Andy Warhol was given a Burger King rather than a McDonalds and they recorded him eating it. That’s the ad. Now, this clip itself is part of an artistic film made by Jorgen Leth in 1982 called 66 Scenes from America.

I surveyed the office, and very few people could tell who it was in the video clip, even with the caption “#EatLikeAndy”. The idea was to make something quiet that would cut through the noise of usual Super Bowl ads but it doesn’t appear to have paid off. As part of the campaign, Burger King sent out Mystery Boxes containing a wig, Burger King bag, and an empty bottle of ketchup so you too could #EatLikeAndy and post your videos on social media. Personally, I prefer to eat like Andy Doghol.

The Ugly

Sometimes brands have more money than sense and it certainly shows in some of the ads in this year’s crop. Cross-over episodes are the name of the game here: some cross-overs I can understand but these? Not so much.  

Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” campaign has become something of a cultural phenomenon, with its pervasive catchphrase and medieval setting. However, its latest iteration, featuring Game of Thrones, was perhaps not the best move. Just because both occur in similar time periods does not mean a match made in heaven. Bud Light’s ads are incredibly lighthearted, while Game of Thrones is much more gritty. The reference to The Mountain is a good parody, but the introduction of a dragon is much more jarring. The two don’t quite work, and the result is something so over the top but all over the place.

Another cross-over that joins the ranks of the “Ugly” is the latest Doritos ad featuring Chance the Rapper……..and the Backstreet Boys. I still don’t understand it and I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t a fever dream. Chance on his own would have made a fine ad, but by bringing in the Backstreet Boys, the ad is once again unfocused and in places looks lazy.  Sorry Backstreet Boys, but you should have stayed in the 90s. I’ll always miss you.

A final note

Some ads just don’t fit neatly into a box. Perhaps they’re a cool idea that isn’t executed flawlessly. Expensify falls into this category.

Expensify’s concept was interesting: encouraging viewers to download their app and scan the receipts that appeared for a chance to win money. This in itself is incredibly exciting. Would viewers actively download the app based off the slot? If so, would this be the start of a new wave of advertising? The execution was another story. The ad as a music video is fine: not to my tastes but I could see how others might enjoy it. The introduction featuring Adam Scott, which was necessary to actually make this an ad, is what makes me cringe. Never-the-less, I’ll be keeping an eye on this ad to see if they did get an upswing in downloads and if others begin to take up this kind of “download now” messaging.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of 2018

2018 was a big and exciting year.

There was a Royal Wedding, a World Cup, and a whole host of holidays to keep up with. Plenty of opportunities for fun and exciting advertising campaigns. As the fog of the holiday season fades away and the January Blues start to sink in, sometimes you need a helping hand to get the creative juices flowing – be that by looking at some truly great campaigns or learning from others mistakes.

So, grab a cup of tea, put your headphones in, and mute your emails for 10 minutes so you can get some inspiration from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2018 in relative peace. Be warned: this is definitely a bumper edition. It’s been a long year.  

The Good

There are two categories of “good” ads I want to call out in this yearly review: the funny, and the powerful.

My personal favourite of the year had us all questioning whether the ad we were watching was a Tide ad. Airing during the Superbowl, each spot was a parody of every ad under the sun. From Old Spice to Alexa, nothing was safe, and it made a mockery of every brand who had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a spot in the most coveted of all advertising days.

The campaign was so popular that it’s hashtag – #TideAd – is still popular today, with people continuing asking the important question: “Is this a Tide ad?”. It has fully ingrained itself in the public consciousness and for that, I must applaud them. It was also really funny.

But while we all need a laugh every now and then, our next two ads are here for a very different reason. Both Nike and Iceland made headlines this year for showing that you can use your platform as a big name brand to raise awareness for serious issues.

Nike’s 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” motto was a landmark moment, but when they released the ad featuring ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the sportswear brand made some very different waves. Back in late 2016, Kaepernick was responsible for leading the NFL protests which saw players kneeling during the US National Anthem to highlight and protest against racial injustice. He later opted out of the last year of his contract with the 49-ers, and since then has not been able to find work with an NFL team.

Impressed by his actions, he became the face of the 30th-anniversary campaign which featured his black-and-white headshop, overlaid with the quote: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”. This piece was exceptionally powerful: acknowledging that Kaepernick had lost his career to stand up for something incredibly important to not just him but thousands of people around the US and the globe.

On a similar vein, Iceland’s recently banned Christmas ad has been heralded by many as the campaign of the year. This powerfully emotional campaign highlights the devastation that farming Palm Oil is having on the environment and pledges to remove Palm Oil from their products. The ad never went on the air though, being banned by Clearcast, but Iceland still got theeir message out there with it going viral across the web. To date, the official video on YouTube has almost 6 million views and 87,000 likes.

Social and political responsibility is now, more than ever, an incredibly important factor in consumer purchasing decisions, particularly for Millennials. They’re even willing to pay more for sustainability.

Iceland and Nike serve as a masterclass in how to make a stand and come across as geniune in their attempts, unlike some others we have seen in the Good, Bad and Ugly series.

The Bad

Social responsibility is a tactic doesn’t always work, a lesson learned the hard way by MasterCard. During the World Cup, the finance brand promised that for every goal scored by their Brand Ambassadors Messi or Neymar Junior in the next two years, they would donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to the World Food Programme. Sounds great right?


The issue is, Mastercard clearly has the money to fund this kind of stunt regardless of how well these footballers performed. Why did they need to make it more complicated? Couldn’t they just donate the food? On top of this, there was literally nothing anyone could do to change the outcome. This isn’t the same as when you buy a product and a company donates a percentage of sales, like Toms. No-one can make Messi score more goals.

There was such universal backlash to this campaign that Mastercard ended up dropping it, electing to donate a flat 2 million meals along with the 400,000 already pledged. The Times journalist, Henry Winter got it right: “Compassion should never be a competition”. A lesson that Mastercard apparently learned the hard way.

Starbucks learned a very different lesson when they launched their Blonde Espresso: the importance of good ad copy. We have no idea who signed-off this campaign, and I am absolutely baffled that it made it to the public eye.

Now read it again. Still stumped?

I understand the gist of this campaign, as do the many people who have written about it and made fun of it online. What cannot be denied is the fact that this copy is an absolute mess.

The Ugly

I can’t discuss the ugly of 2018 without quickly mentioning the Diet Coke “Because I Can” campaign. I’m still really mad about it.

Anyway, moving on.

There has been a trend of late that has really angered me, and that is digital agencies buying up space in newsprint to talk about how bad newsprint is as an advertising avenue. Every time I see one of these pieces, my eyes roll so much they nearly get stuck in the back of my head.

OOH, TV and print all have their place in the advertising world, much like digital has its place. They all do different things, and we would be remiss to believe that we are the only one worth investing in. PPC may not be able to tell a brand story like TV ads can, but PPC is much better at being there when the user needs them. OOH might be more expensive, but it has a much greater guarantee of viewership. Whilst it is a lot easier to prove the effectiveness of your digital campaigns, it is ignorant to think they are the best and only option.

It’s been a year of some real highs and some shocking lows in the advertising game, and with them come many lessons to learn. Don’t be afraid to stand for something, but think about the message you’re putting out there. 

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Christmas

While Christmas ads have been gracing our screens for a number of weeks now, I believed it would be remiss to write a G|B|U until December was officially upon us. Now that I’ve cracked open my advent calendar and am in a perpetual Christmas Eve mindset, it’s time for me to bring poison pen onto that most hallowed of advertising periods: Christmas

It’s my favourite holiday and it doesn’t take a lot to impress me over this period. Make me smile, laugh or just be adorable, and you get a gold star from me. But how do this year’s holiday ads measure up?

Ahead of the Pack

An honourable mention must, in my opinion, go to John Lewis. From around the 15th of November, you cannot get through a day without the inevitable question arising: “has the John Lewis ad aired yet?”. They have sparked nostalgia, made us gasp in awe, and brought many a tear to even the hardiest of souls. As such, it feels unfair to consider it amongst the Good, Bad or Ugly: they exist in a class of their own.

With that said, this year’s ad is not up to snuff. Don’t get me wrong: I have a soft spot for Elton John, and “Your Song” is one of my favourite songs. But Elton John alone does not a good Christmas ad make.

Think back to 2011 and “The Long Wait”, all about a little boy who was so excited for Christmas, just so he could give a gift to his mum and dad. A look back at Elton’s life cannot possibly provoke these kinds of emotion. However, a much more successful ad series comes from John Lewis’ partner in crime: Waitrose. The theme “Too good to wait” allows for a much more lighthearted ad: be it through skipping the Christmas lights countdown or fast-forwarding through the John Lewis ad (we’ve all done it), these snappy placements are much more engaging and refreshing than Elton’s story. Plus, the dad saying “Stollen?” gets me every time.

On the upside, even the worst John Lewis ad is still better than some of the Bad and Ugly of Christmas advertising. More on that later.

The Good

With that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the Good of Christmas advertising. There’s a lot of them and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few of my favourites.

Claiming my top spot this year is the Sainsbury’s ad: a wholesome depiction of a Christmas play that makes me die of cuteness in exactly 25 seconds, and makes me cry in 33. These kids are adorable: from their giggles to the little waves to their parents in the audience, they’re funny (big fan of the one playing the Queen), and I am rooting for Plug Boy – who I believe should be our new national hero. I love it, and I want 10 more of these ads throughout the year.

I’m also a big fan of Spotify’s Wrapped campaign, which is a great example of effective personalisation and a very literal interpretation of data-driven marketing. It’s really fun, and something I look forward to every year.

Final mention goes to the Heathrow Bears. Funny and emotional in equal measures, my poor heart simply cannot handle the tiny bear reaching out to cuddle his grandmother. As someone who lives really far away from their family, this one hit me right in the feels and serves as a reminder that the season is really all about family.

The Bad

There is one thing I truly, truly hate in Christmas ads, and it’s ads which merely show a stream of products. As we’ve seen above, there are ways for retailers to showcase their brands without a running list of products and prices. In a season fueled by imagination, laziness cannot be tolerated.

The Ugly

If Good is the Nice List and Bad is the Naughty List, then Ugly isn’t on any list.

The worst ad of the year, and I do not use this term lightly, comes from a brand which is much more high end. I will preface this with an observation: I am not Burberry’s target audience. but, good Lord that does not excuse the 1 minute and 47 seconds of drivel that they pushed out this year. This spot would be more befitting of Halloween: a creepy rendition of “Carol of the Bells” plays over some frankly dizzying camera-work. A cast of famous faces stays frozen in a number of “typical” holiday scenes – stuck on a delayed train, having Christmas dinner, watching TV – showing off the latest fashions and jewellery from the brand. The poses themselves look like something out of a horror film, something made even worse by the background music.

Burberry has produced something that is boring, a little bit scary, and thoroughly uncompelling. Not ideal for a Christmas ad.

I think that there is one key takeaway for Yuletide ads, and that’s simply to make people happy. People love the spreading and receiving Christmas joy, so make sure your spots give them that feeling too. It really is as simple as that in my book.

An aside: if you read this series intently, you’ll know I have a soft spot for KFC ads. Their Holiday ad also does not disappoint.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Diet Coke

I am not exaggerating when I say: the NMPi office is fueled by Diet Coke. In fact, the Marketing team alone is probably responsible for a quarter of all Diet Coke consumption in the company.

We know Diet Coke. We love Diet Coke.

So, imagine our disappointment at the latest ad campaign, “Because I Can”, from Coca-Cola. It got me to thinking: what’s happened to Coke’s advertising strategy? Off the top of my head, their ads have always been effective: instantly recognisable and fairly entertaining. Was I wrong?

It seemed like the perfect opportunity for another in our G|B|U series; so settle in, grab your favourite beverage, and get ready for a history lesson.

The Good

There is little in this world that I love more than a good Christmas ad and, being roughly 120 years old, Coca-Cola has had a lot of time to get it right. It’s no surprise, then, that one of Coke’s best adverts is their Christmassy iteration of 1995, an ad that is as old as I am.

For many, the mere sound of this advert marks the start of Christmas; it’s an ad that is synonymous with both Coke and the holiday season. This is a masterclass in brand awareness: you know instinctively from the first note that this is the Coke advert. It even uses a painting of a Santa that has been around since the 1930s. Talk about brand continuity.

Another great campaign that I should mention is the “Share a Coke” campaign. While I never found a bottle with my name on it (but if you want to send me one, I’d happily accept), this was perhaps their strongest commercial effort. “Share a Coke” was originally launched in Australia in 2012 before being rolled out across the world until 2014 and featured over one thousand names gracing Coke bottles. The campaign became a viral phenomenon: 235,000 tweets on the #ShareACoke hashtag, proposals and 25 million new Facebook followers all demonstrating it’s remarkable success. Plus, it was a sweet message: share a coke with your friends.

There are many others that I had remembered fondly, and watching them back I still think they’re great. The Happiness Factory, Heist, the Polar Bears, all ads that I can still remember even though they haven’t been on the air in about 10 years.

Once upon a time, Coke’s advertising had heart.

The Bad

Speaking of Christmas, it is a well-established fact that brands jump on holidays and days of celebration. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Royal Weddings: if they spot a chance to make more money, you can bet they’ll be making an ad about it. And, for the most part, that’s okay. The consumer understands. They might roll their eyes a little, but they’ll accept it.

There are some things, however, that should be left well enough alone. Perhaps the landmark ruling allowing Saudi Arabian women to drive?

Eyes certainly rolled when Coke released a new ad in Saudi Arabia in 2018 which featured a man teaching his daughter to drive. She’s shaky at first, but that’s all fixed by a sip of Coke and they drive off into the desert. It’s a tricky one: some applaud Coca-Cola for their inclusivity, but many find the ad tasteless and I have to agree. This was a clear attempt at capitalisation, and an unnecessary one at that.

It’s not the only time that Coca-Cola has been called out for being culturally insensitive. In 2015, a Christmas ad for the Mexican market showed young, attractive, white people appearing in a Mexican town with Coke and a Christmas tree to the awe of the town’s residents. This perpetuated a stereotype of the “white saviour”, with indigenous people appearing subordinate. The tone-deaf ad was quickly pulled after substantial backlash.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, sales have been down year on year, with the Sugar Tax posing an even bigger threat to regular Coke. One of the reasons for the slump is the recent bad press Diet Coke’s artificial sweeteners have been receiving.

According to Susan E. Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences and a behavioural neuroscientist, “Findings from a variety of studies show that routine consumption of diet sodas, even one per day, can be connected to higher likelihood of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure, in addition to contributing to weight gain.” 

And with younger generations becoming much more health-conscious, you can bet Diet Coke is taking a hit.

In order to beat its bad rep, Coca-Cola needed a new campaign focused on the younger generations to get them drinking Diet Coke again. The outcome, “Because I Can”, goes so far towards the vanilla that it is bland, boring, and works to offend an entire generation.

There are a number of different iterations of this ad: the SuperBowl spot featuring Gillian Jacobs, the British version with the same script but an English actress, individual ones for different flavours, and a Spanish one that appears on their Puerto Rico YouTube channel. None of them are good. (Well, the Spanish one might be but my language skills are lacking).

Each one is a snapshot into this stereotyped idea of a millennial. Everyone uses the word super. Buzzwords like “athleisure” and “yurt” are dropped left and right. The only way I could be more annoyed is if they told me it was better than avocado toast. We don’t all love avocado toast.

On top of this, the message of “Life is Short, Have a Diet Coke” is incredibly patronising. In essence, Coke is encouraging its consumers to not care about their health, so long as it makes them happy. An ad full of generalisations and yet they gloss over the one that is most likely to cost them sales.

The sheer amount of negative comments on these videos, the op-eds in marketing publications, and even the frustration I felt that led me to do a special edition of G|B|U are enough to show that this was a really bad move.

If Coca-Cola can teach us one thing it’s that you aren’t immune to bad marketing choices, no matter how well ingrained your brand is in the public consciousness. It may have been easier in the days before political correctness, and the youth may well be a bunch of easily offended snowflakes, but they’re who’s buying your products now.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of the Royal Wedding

There is nothing the British love more than a right royal knees up, and nothing more perfectly encapsulates this than a royal wedding. Much like many summertime events – Royal Ascot, the Oxford v. Cambridge Boat Race, actually seeing the sun – it provides an opportunity to sit outside (perhaps with a barbecue?) with your nearest and dearest, enjoying a Pimms.  British culture at its absolute finest.

And there is also nothing advertisers and brands love more than an opportunity to boost their sales. While Harry and Meghan’s nuptials were by no means as closely followed as older brother Will’s wedding to Kate, there has been just enough uptake from advertisers to allow me to present my take on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Royal Wedding-related advertising.

The Good

There are very few things in this world that I love, and Warburtons brings two of them together in what is perhaps my favourite campaign. Combining puns and bread, the simple adverts get the balance just right between jumping on the royal bandwagon, but not being too in your face.

Frequent readers of G/B/U will know that I have something of a soft spot for KFC adverts. They last made an appearance during Valentines Day with their scratch and sniff cards (of which I received precisely none. Thanks everyone), and they’re back again with a limited edition, redesigned bucket. The traditional red has been replaced with gold and a quote “We declare a regal day of celebration, jubilation…..and fried chicken.”

Just 50 of them were available on the day, and only in the branch nearest to the church in Windsor. I can’t tell you why I love it. Perhaps it is the light dust of humour that seems to perfectly fit the gravitas of the occasion. Perhaps I just love fried chicken that much. All I know is that I wish I had been one of the lucky recipients.

The Bad

Oh, Nintendo. I love your products so very much. Your Royal Wedding ad, however, I do not. London-dwellers (or at least anyone who has used the Tube in the last few weeks) will recognise this Super Mario Odyssey poster, which has been plastered in every station from West Ruislip to Epping.

I have questions. First: the copy reads “Hats off to the Royal Couple”, yet Mario’s hat remains firmly on his head. Why? Also, why is there a second hat hovering in the background? I admit that this may be explained should I ever play Super Mario Odyssey.

Some people love it, but honestly? I’m not impressed.

The Ugly

This is a definition that often fluctuates depending on the topic, but this time “ugly” actually means ugly, and to be honest its one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Sexy Fish Car.

It’s not pretty, is it? The Sexy Fish Car is for London-based Asian seafood and sushi restaurant and has appeared around the capital before. The idea behind the photo shoot is apparently that the royal couple are doing some last minute wedding errands – something which is very unlikely, but hey.

First off: if I hadn’t researched this and known that Sexy Fish was a restaurant I would be very confused. I’m still pretty confused. Secondly, the car is an abomination. Finally, I’ll forgive a lot in ads but there is a tenuous at best story here.

What would have been more interesting is if the car had the classic “Just Married” cans on the back: something which actually relates to the car itself as opposed to having a couple who sort of look like Prince Harry and Meghan posing next to it. While it wouldn’t improve the car itself, it would certainly improve the advert overall.

But more generally than this, Sexy Fish is an incredibly high-end restaurant in Mayfair which begs the question: why would such a fancy and expensive restaurant promote itself using such a tacky car? I am baffled – the car does not match the rest of the brand at all. It missed the mark at literally every point.

Regardless, this is not what the royal wedding was about. It was a beautiful expression of love between two frankly beautiful people. So I raise my glass to the happy couple and wish them every joy in the world. Just please don’t ever get into the Sexy Fish car.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of International Women’s Day

We are a week on from International Women’s Day, a phenomenal celebration of women across the world. We all have those female inspirations who drive us, support us and mentor us, and I personally love this chance to recognise women as a whole.

Brands are beginning to jump on board to deliver their message to this half of the population. Some of those moves are genius, and others have proved borderline offensive. So once again, we’ll be looking through the best, the worst, and the questionable in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.


I have two absolute favourites in this section because they do two very different things. The first is Marie Claire’s #NotMyJob campaign, which is all about workplace equality.

For those of you who read my last blog (GBU: Valentine’s Day), you’ll know that social campaigns can absolutely bomb, but this time Marie Claire is on to a winner. The social media aspect of this campaign gets women to share their experiences of being harassed or excluded in the workplace, while also pushing for genuine, intersectional equality and guarantees of rights through legislation. Combined with some solid partnerships, and a short film which goes beyond inspiring, this is a fierce exercise in demonstrating what Marie Claire stands for; and demonstrating real honest integrity as a brand.

The second campaign I want to talk about comes from HP. To give you some context: I am an emotional person. I cry about things very very easily. I sobbed at my desk during HP’s Follow Your Dreams ad. I feel like HP reached into my soul with this ad. It’s more of a short film, and it follows a little girl in India called Paro as she starts to follow her dreams as a storyteller. With the support of her teacher and her family, Paro’s dreams become a reality when….well, I won’t spoil it.

What I love about this style of advertising is its way of allowing a brand to align itself with a cause, without forcing its product down your throat, and in a way that doesn’t feel fake or forced to me. All of the tech that is used in the ad comes from HP sure, but what makes me want to buy the products is the fact that HP now comes across as supporting a cause that’s very close to my heart.

What unites both of these campaigns, and puts the cherry on top of two spectacular cakes, is their desire for equality and support of all women.


When we covered Valentine’s Day ads, the bad just meant that they weren’t very good full stop. The thing about trying to cater to women and missing the mark is that these moves can often come across as tone-deaf and even offensive. And guess what? We didn’t ask for this.

My choice for the bad is probably very cynical. I am not a big fan of changing logos or brands to be women-friendly. Turning McDonalds’ golden arches upside down so they’re a W, Johnnie Walker becoming Jane Walker, the list goes on and on.

For me, I find these moves to be disingenuous. They last a week and then everything goes back to normal. If some of the profits are going to a women’s charity, I can get behind it. If there is some kind of statement being put behind it, do what you like. But these kinds of publicity stunts are exhausting. They aren’t new. They aren’t clever. They don’t do anything. More often than not, they’re just trying to capitalise on another “holiday”.


Last time I did a blog in this series, “the ugly” just meant that it was something that wasn’t genius, but made me want to talk about it. This time, I’m going with a different tact: a really solid attempt but missed the mark, pretty catastrophically.

Brewdog’s Pink IPA gives me a lot of feelings. On the one hand, it’s intended as a satirical move: parodying all of those sexist marketing ploys such as Bic’s ‘Just for Her’ pens (because my tiny dainty hands can’t handle pens made for big strong manly men, right?). They also promised to donate 20% of the profits of the pink beer to a charity focusing on getting women studying STEM subjects, and made Pink IPA 20% cheaper for those who identify as female (another big win). On the surface: big fan. HUGE fan. Did it work out like they planned? Survey says: absolutely not. Instead of being a parody, Brewdog just looked like they were perpetuating the stereotype and it breaks my heart.  

I wanted this stunt to work. I wanted the population to buy into it and be able to support women studying STEM subjects by drinking beer. But Beer for Girls? The message wasn’t made clear enough. As the old adage goes: either you die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Here’s the thing, you don’t have to associate your brand with a cause. Purpose marketing campaigns, as seen in brands like Toms, or with the recent Lacoste limited edition shirts based on endangered species, are amazing. As we’ve seen, some of the campaigns for International Women’s Day have been amazing, but do you need to run a campaign? No. It’s much more effective if you, for example, pay your female employees an equal wage, or give all employees an equal chance at progressing to leadership positions. You don’t even need to shout about it.

Keep your own house in order. It speaks louder than any campaign.


The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Valentine’s Day

There are few holidays which spawn as wide a variety of ads as Valentine’s Day. Christmas is fairly easy to get right: you can’t go wrong with something sweet and wholesome. The Super Bowl is a masterclass in how creative you can be. Valentine’s Day? Well, that’s a tough one. From the sexy to the sweet, just about anything goes; so I’m taking a look at some of the good, the bad and the ugly ads that have surfaced this year.

The Good

The one that tops my list this year is the Old Spice campaign. Both visually stunning and amusing it’s definitely one of the highlights of this year’s crop. At its core, it sticks to that winning formula that we know and love about Old Spice: that stupid humour but amazing visuals. If another brand tried to pull that blend off I’m not sure I’d be as enamoured.

Some companies just get holiday advertising right, and Dunkin’ Donuts seem to nail it every time, maximising holiday sales and engagement. This year’s Valentine’s competition focuses on all kinds of love (which warms my cold, lonely heart): encouraging fans to share how their love – platonic, romantic, or otherwise – “runs on Dunkin’” using #DDLoveContest. Their Instagram and Twitter feeds are full of heartwarming stories, many of whom have gone with their loves to Dunkin’ Donuts just for the ‘gram. An engagement campaign which drives sales: the gold standard.

The Bad

More than anything else, I’m confused by the Vanity Fair Napkins (not to be confused with Vanity Fair the magazine) and Match.com partnership, promoting #DateANapkinUser. It’s an odd one, and doesn’t really make much sense. The choice of topic doesn’t reflect either of their brands particularly well, and unless you knew that it was an ad for Vanity Fair Napkins I don’t think you could guess it from content alone.

You’d also think that by using a hashtag, the campaign would be all over social, right? Well, you’d be wrong. In fairness, it is a young campaign, but there isn’t very much interaction with it. If you’re using a hashtag, you want people to play and engage with it. All they really have is direct shares of the same article. It’s a risk, and sadly I don’t think it worked.

The Ugly

Ugly campaigns are the ones that are just a bit weird, but I can’t help but want to talk about. A prime example? Scratch and sniff Valentine’s cards from KFC, with the aroma of the Colonel’s own 11 herbs and spices. In other words, it smells like chicken. One word: WHY?

A tiny part of me wants to get one of the cards, a lot of me doesn’t understand, and all of me is on board with it. Ultimately, I want everyone I know to have seen it so I can talk about it more.

The final ad campaign I want to talk about is Car2Go, and in all honesty I can’t decide whether I like it because it’s good, or because it baffles me. It’s a three-part story about Greg’s affair with a new car. It’s a story of love and betrayal: packed with emotion and humor. Car2Go has given us a campaign that is a little out there but I certainly feel for Tammy: you deserve someone who treats you better than Greg.

This is just me, I know that some people will disagree. The one we can agree on? People promoting GDPR as though it’s a Valentine’s delight. Just stop.