There is an old saying in beauty and fashion: ‘With every millimeter the mouth opens, the price point goes down a notch’. Low priced mass brands can be all smile and approachable in their ads, they even have to be, because their job is to make as many of us as possible like them. Ueber-Brands however have a different goal. Even when playing in more accessible tiers and territories they must create an image of superiority and distinction to justify their price point. And that requires their communication to be projecting a different attitude, namely one of confidence and entitlement. Think of any high end fashion or beauty ad, like Dior Addict for example: Kate Moss looking at you from above, challenging to the point of being condescending, or Daphne Groeneveld, giving herself a ‘head shot’ of beauty or looking right through you. The promise: “Be Iconic”. Obviously, that’s no laughing matter. That is serious work.
The other way for Ueber-Brands to project a feeling of strength and superiority is generally to have the balls to go against the grain: Provocation. It’s a bit less expected and thus more modern. But it’s also more dangerous. Yet that’s the point. When a brand shows the courage to take a clear stance it endears itself to those who want to do the same. It polarizes and that makes it perfect for those who think of themselves as discriminating. It projects a singular attitude and implies it’d be able to imbue you with the same or at least match the one you already have.
A perfect example of both, pride and provocation, and the perfect fusion of the two comes currently from Magnum. Yes, the ice cream brand, not the gun. It’s one of the best winners of this year’s Cannes festival, if not the best for me – especially in its version for Magnum Double.
Magnum’s new campaign is titled ‘Proudly seeking pleasure’ and that’s exactly what it shows. Accompanied by a haunting rendition of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ you see an array of drag queens or transgender women looking seductively, sparkly, lasciviously and pensively, sometimes flirting, sometimes feisty, sometimes forlorn, but always full of feminine sensuality and pride. Towards the end of the spot, more and more are enjoying a Magnum and you kind of get the point. Yet, when the line ‘Pleasure has more than one layer’ is supered in, it still adds another, enjoyable punch – making a perfect statement for both, LGBT acceptance and the ice cream’s double layer feature.
What makes this commercial so noticeable for me is not the fact that a global FMCG brand dares to publicly associate itself with gender bending or transgender pride. Luckily, that is not so daring anymore – especially after the whole Caitlyn Jenner brouhaha. Neither do I think the idea of being unapologetic about sensual pleasure is so special – particularly for Magnum, which has made a big business out of it. Though it does take a certain degree of courage to promote unadulterated sensual abandon if you are selling globally, incl. the Middle East and the US.
No, what really tickled me and made me want to command Lowe and Unilever, is how they united both in a way that hits the product benefit on the head – so to speak. No borrowed interest (well, perhaps a bit), no gratuitous shocking (actually, the opposite – the spot is quiet and elegant), no provocative parading or boastful promoting. Just a simple but proud and poignant message to the point. That’s true creativity in communication – which one did not see so much of at this year’s festival by the way.
If you compare this to one of the examples we actually laud in our book (Wolf Schaefer & JP Kuehlwein, ‘Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands’) the achievement becomes even clearer.
Also in Cannes, but last year and at the film festival, not the Lions, Chaumet, the French haute joaillerie house dating back to the 18th century, launched a new campaign for their Liens jewelry that rattled a few feathers (chaumet.com, The Double Take). The star: Marine Vacth, new model-turned-actress It-girl who just released her feature film in Cannes about a high-end teenage prostitute. The subject: A mysterious ‘double take’ picture that tells a story somewhere between narcissism and lesbianism, both subjects that aren’t necessarily consensus building. The effect: From famous to infamous, from nice to must-have, from stodgy to trendy in a cultural nano-second.
It’s still a great example for mixing heritage and high-end class with edge and controversy. But seen through the eyes of the Magnum campaign it seems suddenly a bit trivial and contrived, almost as if it was trying too hard. Of course I still think it’s a good case for going against expectations and infusing a brand with energy and currency. Ultra-stylish. Super-sexy. Ueber-Brand. But the link with the product is simply not as strong. The whole doesn’t feel as compelling and convincing. The effect evaporates and doesn’t linger.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make again and which Magnum’s ‘True to Your Pleasure’ campaign inspired and epitomizes in perfection is: Mixing pride and provocation is a very timely and very strong way of building Ueber-Brands. Sell yourself without bowing to your audience too obsequiously but rather pull their strings. Show that you are rightfully on the pedestal and that you have the power and the courage to take your audience and our culture forward as only a true leader can and will. Establish the codes, disrupt them and then put them back together in a new way as befits only someone at the top of their game. Don’t provoke for provocation sake, that’s too obvious and cheap. Neither be blatantly arrogant, that’s boring and creates resentment, at least among those accustomed to these tactics. Blend both, oscillate and make sure you always stay on brand/product, i.e. on message. And should you go too far at one point, stumble or fall, do so graciously. Get up and move on. Because kings – or queens – never say ‘sorry’. Especially when they are drag queens.