Naughty or nice? The insight & strategy round-up

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to reflect on the year gone by. We’re not reminiscing over the royal wedding or Beyoncé at Coachella though, we’ve brought together the bright minds from our Insight and Strategy team to get their take on the brands they’d say have been ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ over the past 12 months. From transparency and a change in their approach, to cause-based marketing, stunts and the actions of their founders.

Branding and transparency – Sarah Wareham

Who’s on the ‘naughty’ list for 2018?

Pret a Manger is famously founded on the principles of quality, freshness, and naturalness (so that’s no chemicals, additives and preservatives), but when The Real Bread Campaign highlighted that this was untrue this year, the brand came into difficulty. Rather than change their message or work to keep their promise, they ploughed on with their positioning claiming it was ‘an ideal’ rather than the gospel truth. So much so, that in April, they were banned by the ASA from using the word ‘natural’ – undoing over 30 years of brilliant brand work. Lesson one: if you’re going to make a promise, you must keep it – as people will find out!

Starbucks is often accused of playing fast and loose with their brand mission: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time” (and what better way to support your neighbourhood than to pay your tax…) But it’s their brand values that have caused the most issues this year.

The first of their values is to ‘create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome’ – but that’s not been everyone’s experience this year. Customers have turned to social media when employees have written racial slurs on cups, and two African-American customers were arrested in store in what has been widely reported as a blatant case of racial profiling. Starbucks has apologised, and taken the first step in changing this by shutting more than 8000 branches across the US early so that 175,000 employees could have racial bias training.

It’s another reminder that a brand is more than just its mission and values.The ability to deliver these across the entire brand experience and through every person connected to the brand is vital. One rogue tweet, ad, or even the behaviour of a single employee and suddenly the integrity of your brand is being called into question – often on an international scale.

Who’s at the top of the ‘nice’ list?

While the idea of radical transparency is not new (we’ve been talking about the ‘glass box brand’ phenomena for a few years now),2018 really feels like the year that brands realised everything they do, both internally and externally, will reflect upon the brand.

Now they’re often described as the darling poster child of the advertising industry, but let’s talk about the newly rebranded John Lewis & Partners for something other than the ads. The John Lewis Partnership (the parent company of both John Lewis and Waitrose) has always been structured radically differently to the other mainstays of the retail world, with every employee a Partner of the business.

This is a huge differentiator for the brand, but one that isn’t always well understood. The new name and branding has been sensitively done in a way that celebrates the heritage and personal touches (such as their founders penchant for signing his name in green).. It puts every single one of its people at the heart of the brand and at a very practical level makes sense of their brand architecture in a way that consumers probably didn’t understand before. It’s an interesting move, and I’d expect to see them capitalise more on their personal and instore experience as a way to build and differentiate in 2019 and beyond.

My second pick for the ‘nice’ list is a smaller project; Glenmorangie whisky distillery in Scotland. The distillery has a brand story that is driven largely by their location on the banks of the Dornoch Firth and around the water they use – which is one reason why they often support water and sea life conservation causes.

This year they have gone a step further, by working with the Marine Conservation Society to reintroduce 20,000 oysters to the Firth (previously extinct due to overfishing) and build a new oyster colony there. This will help them retain the wilds that are a large part of their brand and help purify the surrounding sea from any waste products from their distillery. It’s a great example of a clear brand foundation through which they have tied together all their activities, not just their product portfolio.

Change of approach – James Bagan

Who’s on the ‘naughty’ list for 2018?

Ah Diet Coke… Their decision to target ‘millennials’ should have been warning enough. It’s a constant bugbear for us at Home – the year you are born does not define who you are, nor does it mean someone born in 1983 (aged 35 in 2018) is the same as someone who is born in 1995 (aged 23). But they took this and ran with it, creating a set of adverts which are patronising, smug, and above all a cliché representation of a huge segment of society. You only have to look at Twitter to see how badly the public have reacted. One of my favourite Tweets being “I love this new ad by Pepsi.”

Man holding diet coke

We’re currently two years on from when Coca-Cola announced its ‘One Brand’ marketing strategy whereby all products would sit under one creative platform: “Taste the Feeling”. Diet Coke has already strayed from that ideal, developing a campaign (and product look and feel) that feels very separate from the other products in the portfolio. And when you see the Coca-Cola World Cup ad alongside the Diet Coke ad, you realise just how lacking in consistency, cohesion, and long-term strategy their marketing really is.

Who’s at the top of the ‘nice’ list?

Nike’s 2018 ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ has everything you expect from Nike, and more. It’s been brilliantly executed, is powerful and energetic, and more than anything, it’s real. Unlike previous ads that revolve around the famous, Nike has shifted the focus to 258 ‘real’ Londoners instead, depicting London street culture superbly, and giving it genuine authenticity.

The creative’s great, but strategically it’s a fascinating change in approach for such a large global brand This is an advert about London. For Londoners. On the evidence of this campaign and their 2017 investor day, Nike are moving towards more ‘local’ campaigns. They believe 80% of their growth in the next three years will come from 12 specific cities, including London. This is Nike taking an approach based on proper strategic thinking, making bold choices that big brands often don’t.

Cause-based marketing – Brad Hill

Who’s on the ‘naughty’ list for 2018?

In theory, caused-based marketing is a good thing. Brands should use their power and resource to raise awareness and influence social and societal issues. But aligning your brand with these issues simply to promote yourself and drive sales, with little regard for the issue in question, isn’t.

I doubt I’m not the only one who has noticed the number of brands who have jumped on the back of whatever issue they can use to remain relevant. Remember the Pepsi ad, with Kendall Jenner solving racial tensions around the world with one can of Pepsi? Or McDonald’s filet-o-fish, which turned out to be the sole connection between a son and his recently deceased dad. Of course, there’s Heineken too, who brought ‘opposites’ together to put their differences aside and share a cold beer.

Unless your brand is actually going to take action and make a difference then please stop. You’ve been rumbled.

Who’s at the top of the ‘nice’ list?

Patagonia has always been a brand with a purpose. This year alone the brand has created a platform which allows customers to get involved in local environmental causes, they launched a campaign to protect the last wild rivers in Europe and on 24th September they closed all their US stores to allow their employees to vote in the midterm elections.

But despite doing very little advertising their work hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the brand being rewarded in the form of unwavering customer loyalty that seems to grow year after year.

Patagonia billboard

A marketing stunt – Miles Williams

Who’s on the ‘naughty’ list for 2018?

Brewdog. What a brand. One thing I love about them is that they developed a strong brand identity and stuck to it. If you’re aware of Brewdog, you know what they’re about. The “apocalyptic motherf****r of a craft brewery”’ made great-tasting, different beer at more affordable prices for the general consumer (whilst also throwing taxidermy cats out of helicopters in protest against ‘fat cat’ bankers and letting the public invest in their company). They have a challenger brand mentality that has stayed with them as they’ve grown. And… then they did this for International Women’s Day.

Bottles of beer

Reskinning Punk IPA to Pink IPA, they tried to take a sarcastic stance against sexism and ‘empower women’, but really just reinforced the issue at hand and didn’t actually make any positive changes.

Sarcasm was the wrong approach for this. They should have done something bigger, braver, and with a clearer message to really push the limits of people’s comfort zones. Or, perhaps they could have just left International Women’s Day alone, because arguably they lack the authority to talk about sexism.

Who’s at the top of the ‘nice’ list?

A ‘tried and tested’ way of a challenger brand is publicly calling out the dominant market leaders and showing how what you do is better. Enter Huawei.

Huawei are relatively unknown despite being named as the second biggest smartphone brand in the world earlier this year. They were only knocked off that spot when the latest iPhones were released. Huawei make phones that can rival the big players, and at a fraction of the price, but it’s hard to get attention in a marketplace that is almost monopolised by two brands with budgets that mean they can shout far louder. So what did they do? Well, they crashed the iPhone launch outside multiple Apple shops by giving out power banks, pointing out the biggest flaw in the giant’s products – that’s what!

This was a brave move by anyone’s standards, but social media loved the mentality and personality of the brand. They are brave enough to take on Apple outside their own stores, so their products must stack up right? Well, that’s the risk with a challenger brand pointing out the problem with the big players, they can only do it if they truly are better than their competitor’s flaws.

Well played Huawei, well played.

Huawei handing out battery packs

Founders – Eleanor Pick

Who’s on the ‘naughty’ list for 2018?

It’s been a year of poor decisions, bad behaviour and chronic Twitter abuse from many brand founders, leaving their companies figuring out how to move forward through the bad press and declining sales. One of the worst offenders, and top of the ‘naughty’ list, is Brandon Truaxe.

Truaxe was CEO of the iconic beauty brand Deciem; a brand with a mission to make skin care egalitarian and affordable. Estée Lauder bought a share of the business in 2017 and the brand was going from strength-to-strength. H But in January of 2018, Truaxe took all of Deciem’s social media channels under his control, posting increasingly erratic and inappropriate videos. In February he fired his co-CEO, Nicola Kilner, for alleged disloyalty, and began to receive increasingly negative press attention. However, the real scandal began in October, when Truaxe posted a video from the back of a taxi announcing that he was shutting down Deciem and called out beauty bloggers, “all of Hollywood” and George Clooney for being engaged in “high level criminal activity”. All Deciem stores were told to close and the website was shut down. The Estée Lauder company took legal action to remove Truaxe as CEO and reinstated Kilner in his place. Currently, Truaxe has a restraining order against him and has started his own Instagram account posting yet more erratic videos and calling out Deciem’s financial crimes.

It’s not clear how all of this has impacted sales, the brand has inevitably been tarnished by Truaxe’s actions. Removing him as CEO mitigated some of the damage, but the brand’s reputation with their online retailers will have been damaged and they will need to build the trust in their brand back up. Truaxe has shown that when your brand is built on innovation and egalitarian principles, a founder that disrupts these can be a destructive force.

Who’s at the top of the ‘nice’ list?

Following the theme of challenger beauty brands, Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier, wins the ‘nice’ crown this year. Weiss launched Glossier in 2014 and created a brand that set out to democratise beauty. Their motto, ‘Skin First’ has been a rallying cry for a laidback approach to beauty. Weiss is known for her inclusive approach to the business, giving opportunities to young designers and championing women in the industry. However, it is her approach to her status as a founder that is most inspiring. Weiss has not made herself the face of the business, and while she gets involved with conversation around the brand on social media, she stays in the background, allowing the brand room to shine.

Weiss managed to capitalise on a growing movement across social, and empowered people to think differently not only about beauty, but also about how brands and founders should behave. Brand founders need to think carefully about their approach to the business – although it can be useful to use a founder as the centre point of a brand, it can have consequences if they misbehave.

So, there you have it. 2018 has been a year of soul searching for many brands, and we’re eager to see what 2019 will bring. Got any more thoughts? We’d love to hear ‘em – tweet us @homeagencyuk.

Written by:

Sarah Wareham Insight & Strategy Director


What we think



You may also like

What we think


/  28 Jan 2022

2022 Trends Forecast: DX & Project Management

2022 is here, and with a new year comes new trends, because in our industry, nothing stays the same for long. But that’s why we love it - new technologies, platforms and methodologiess are always evolving and we enjoy the process of learning and ad

Read more

What we think


/  18 Jan 2022

2022 Trends Forecast: Digital Media

2022 is here, and with a new year comes new trends, because in our industry, nothing stays the same for long. But that’s why we love it - new technologies, platforms and methodologies are always evolving and we enjoy the process of learning and ada

Read more