Bringing a Spoon to the Super Bowl: Speaking like an expert when you haven’t played the game.

As a teenager growing up in the late 1980’s, all I wanted to do was skateboard. I was good at it, I made friends doing it, and it was “cool” to be a skater. In a weird way, skateboarding was also the tip of the spear in terms of culture and fashion. Skate brands would introduce or adopt styles that would mainstream three to five years later. Because it was cool — everyone dressed like a skater, which meant that a bunch of people that didn’t skate co-opted the language of a culture without actually being able to skate. Some of them would buy skateboards and not actually use them. “Real Skateboarders” called them posers, and could identify them by the way they carried their largely unused skateboards — with what we called a mall-grab.

Last week, in preparation for our first briefing podcast, and email, we ran across an AdAge article about a Schweppes spot from Brazil called “A Dress for respect”. Part of the “Character Required” campaign, and Created by Ogilvy Brazil, it involves the creation of a “smart” dress that measures and records the number of times that a woman is physically touched during a night on the town. Our initial conversation about the spot was really positive. Our team saw it as conceptually interesting, well produced and socially well-timed. But for whatever reason, to me, something didn’t seem quite right.

At first it was hard to say what bothered me. The line that anchors the campaign “Character Required” is strong, technology is used in an innovative way, and managed to culture-jack conversation around an important social issue. Production values are high, the setting is a bar in Brazil — a place that one would expect to find the product. At first I thought that the issue was the fact that the spot didn’t explicitly feature the product. After thinking for a while, it clicked. It was the Schweppes brand mall-grabbing.

I’ll explain. As you probably know, Schweppes is an established brand that is owned by Coca Cola and makes carbonated drinks. Specifically sparkling water, tonic water, and ginger ale. Some of those products probably target women, but most are universal in appeal. They don’t have a history of making products specifically for, or on behalf of women. Nor do they have a history of producing advertising that speaks about women’s issues. In fact, their traditional brand position seems to be alternate between discussing the bubbly nature of the product, their role as “party starters”, or making wink-wink-nudge-nudge sexytime jokes.

So while the spot probably didn’t hurt the brand, and relative to all of the other content on Ogilvy Brasil’s YouTube Channel, it probably won’t have the same impact or endurance that the Dove “Real Beauty” and Always “Like a Girl” have had.

Why? As well produced and interesting as the spot is, the brand lacks earned respect relative to the message being presented.

When Dove or Always talk about self acceptance, or the use of the word “girl” as a negative, those conversations garner attention because both brands have long histories of successfully researching, creating and selling products made specifically for women to women. Simply put — their opinion matters because they have earned the right to matter.

That’s why when Schweppes strategically decides to target women by creating a diverse line of flavoured tonic waters, and aspirationally declares that “people of character” drink Schweppes, the brand still has to deal with the fact that they have a fairly recent history of producing messages that actually work to undermine movements like #metoo.

But what if it is precisely that slightly misogynistic history that motivated Ogilvy to try to rejuvenate the brand with a well timed injection of cultural relevance? I’d still say that they missed the mark by trying to shortcut their way to authenticity. A better approach would have been to focus on their role in the problem (as a part of a mixed or standalone drink), and try to create dialogue around that first.

For instance, could we make drinks mixed with a Schweppes product at the bar become exponentially safer by investing in this date-rape detecting straw, and supplying a free, Schweppes branded version to every Schweppes account? While I’m certainly no expert in soda marketing, my gut tells me that had Schweppes pursued that avenue, they would have attracted similar attention, increased sales by making Brazilians demand Schweppes at the bar, but more importantly, given Schweppes the right to meaningful voice in the broader conversation happening in society.

And that’s the point. Brands, like people can’t “mall-grab” their way to relevance. Doing so might get you a bit of attention, but it won’t make anyone who knows better respect your opinion enough to give you a seat at the table.


Written by: Christian Dendy — Executive Creative Director, Haste Post Haste