What Can 20 Winning Campaigns Based on Consumer Insights Teach Us?

Reverse engineering case studies on consumer-centric campaigns: game-changing advertising and marketing ideas powered by consumer insights.

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Article Index

Are we out of touch with consumers?

What are insights in advertising?

Consumer Insights that powered winning marketing and advertising campaigns

  1. adam&eveDDB / The AA: From spark-plugs to singalongs
  2. Spotify: 2018 Goals
  3. 4creative / Channel 4: Meet the Superhumans
  4. Ogilvy UK / Time To Change: Be In Your Mate s Corner
  5. Leo Burnett / Always: Keep Going Like a Girl
  6. Clemenger BBDO / Snickers (Mars): Hungerithm
  7. Multiple Agencies* / American Express Business: Small Business Saturday
  8. Wieden & Kennedy London / Three: Holiday Spam
  9. Fractl: Can Biometrics Predict a Viral Marketing Campaign?
  10. Ogilvy — Multiple Agencies* / Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty
  11. AMV BBDO / BT: It’s Good to Talk
  12. Multiple Agencies* / Durex: #Connect Campaign
  13. News Corp / Australian Heart Foundation: Australia’s Biggest Serial Killer
  14. FCB Inferno / The Big Issue: Change Please
  15. 72andSunny Amsterdam / Lynx: Is it OK for Guys
  16. Multiple Agencies and Brands: the ASMR Trend
  17. Multiple Agencies* / P&G Febreze: Breathe Happy
  18. Digitas & Ketchum / Whirlpool: Care Counts
  19. Multiple Agencies* / The Hershey Company: Reese’s Halloween Candy Converter
  20. Pret: Pret’s Little Veggie Pop-up

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Are we out of touch with consumers?

Nick Schön, Former Group CD at Saatchi and Saatchi, was working on Mars ice cream when communism collapsed in the USSR.

“Mars went into Russia immediately and started selling ice cream like crazy.

The thing was though, they couldn’t sell the stuff in the summer when it was hot, but in the winter the Russians couldn’t get enough of it. Mars couldn’t figure it out at all. It was the complete reverse of every other market in the world.” says Nick.

So Mars sent some executives over, and after a week or so they returned with one, simple yet powerful insight.

The kind of dumb game changer that is in front of those embedded in a certain society or market segment, but it’s often missing to who looks at it from outside, with little or wrong data to help.

“It’s obvious really. We don’t know why we never figured it out ourselves”.

“Really? What is it then? Why don’t Russians buy ice cream in the summer?” they asked.

“They don’t have refrigerated trucks. By the time it gets to where the consumers are they’ve all melted. It can only be distributed in the winter”.

This is a funny story and a simple example of how we can miss the point (meaning the need, the culture aspect or behaviour), by being out of touch with consumers.

Truth is, we don’t need to go all the way to post-communism USSR to encounter this problem. It’s said, by the very people that work there, to be largely afflicting both the advertising and marketing industries.

What? With all this data available on consumers?

Yes, indeed.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to assist to a great event, the APG Strategy Conference: On the Contrary. The speakers challenged, educated, and entertained a savvy audience in many memorable ways, but perhaps the biggest and ugliest truth that shook us all was in fact that


As Clémence Lépinard, Strategist at BBH London, writes here in the event’s aftermath, If you think you know people, if you think you know your consumers, and if you think your opinion, intuition or gut feeling can be the foundation of a good strategy, you are wrong.

In particular, I really loved Martin Weigel’s Escape from Fantasy, a funny and sharp provocation to restore the link we have severed between marketing and consumers.

I want to share with you a few stats that Martin pulled together. They might put in context the widespread ignorance about consumers we’re seeing here.


Update: I would like to add a brilliant, on point slide from How do people consume advertising? By Gerad Petherbridge.

I actually wanted to make this point on consumers’ context and culture.

It turns out Gerad did better than anybody, so I’m borrowing his POV. :)

I think we definitely need some literature on the topic, and looking at what has worked in the past might help marketers and advertising agencies figure out how to use insights to thrive in the future.

So, I decided to create a list of case studies: some powerful consumer insights, part of bigger research but simple enough to be grasped by brilliant minds in marketing and advertising and to be turned into gold.

Be that gold in the form of revenues, brand equity, or even impact on the world.

Simple, right? We live in a consumer-centric world, with loads of data (and data suppliers) and lots of clever people working in marketing and advertising… so simple that I’ll be overwhelmed by the multitude of stories, I said to myself.

Nope, it wasn’t simple at all.

After several emails to some big names in the industry, a meaningful conversation on Twitter (thanks especially to the people quoted below, for taking the time to inspire and suggest case studies) and much research, I realized that most professionals working in marketing and advertising can recall very few, if not none, campaigns based on consumer insights.

Let me spell it out.

Most marketing and advertising professionals can recall very few, if not none, campaigns based on actual people they’re trying to reach.

And on the other hand, Rob Estreitinho, Senior Strategist at VCCP Kin, brilliantly woke me up with this tweet.

Ok, got it.

I learnt here that we, market researchers and consumer insight experts, have the responsibility to start building this bridge between campaigns and consumers (and some ads and marketing people seem pretty collaborative and motivated enough to join us on this quest).

So, here is my first step in this direction.

It matches well our mission of enabling marketers and brands to understand consumers’ intrinsic cultural values and needs, and it’s worth the time, I believe, as little or no knowledge on the topic was out there yet.

Below, you can find 20 case studies. These are winning campaigns based on consumer insights, outlined in a simple format which should leave you with some inspiration and bits of know-how learnt in the field. 

But first of all, a little premise based on the most googled question on this topic. Funny enough, from big data of global searches analysed to small data of interviews conducted for this article the same question emerged over and over: what do you mean by consumer insights? — so there’s definitely a need for clarification here.


What are insights in advertising?

In simple words, insights in advertising are pieces of information on consumers that allow a certain message or product to matter to them.

There’s a chapter in this guide dedicated to What does Insight mean in marketing? If you want to know more. :)


Consumer Insights that powered winning marketing and advertising campaigns


adam&eveDDB / The AA: From spark-plugs to singalongs

(picked by market research expert and Founder of New MR Ray Poynter)

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Consumer insight. Even though their profit was growing, the Automobile Association dedicated a new team to research beyond short-term results. What they found was a worrying picture of market share and membership decline. This was caused by consumers’ increased sensitivity for the price and the brand’s falling salience among them.

Action. The AA revised its marketing and re-invested in a campaign aimed at the long term revenue increase, through customer acquisition and retention.

They decided to take a brave step. They shifted from a rational, efficiency-focused message to emotional branding. They went from a world of spanners and sparkplugs to an emotional world of smiles and singalongs.

The strengthened brand enabled the group to raise prices — driving stable revenue growth and delivering a profit of £2.23 for every £1 invested.

You can watch the video here.

What should we learn from this? That we can be brave and build long term success with the right data on our side.

Cheryl Calverley, AA’s Marketing Director, describes the effort as transformational and commercially significant. She explains that attitudes, values, needs and desires drive people’s relationships with brands, and thus their propensity to buy.

But she also warns us that emotional advertising is highly data-driven. It’s only with deep and robust, rational data and analytics that a business can have the confidence to leap into an emotional communications strategy.


Spotify: 2018 Goals

(picked by Jade Taylor, Content & SEO Account Director at Verb Brands)

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Consumer insight. The “insights” here are the actual campaign. Anonymous user data rearranged in a hilarious way and personal voice.

Action. Following the success of Thanks 2016, It’s Been Weird, where it poked fun at some of its quirkier users, Spotify did it again, only this time proposing new year’s resolutions.

The odd component comes back, as Spotify jokes about weird/funny habits of its consumers, plus it features some of the top artists on the platform and appears with geo-targeted OOH (out of home) messages.

The campaign was a success. Revenue tripled in Q1 of the year. They also saw a rise in subscribers, possibly due to the call to action launched during the campaign.

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You can watch the video here.

What should we learn from this? How to talk about data on consumers.

One thing is having lots of consumers’ data, another thing is talking about it. The superpower of Spotify is understanding its user base better than any other music provider thanks to ML and user behaviour tracking (that’s how they power their amazing recommendation algorithm), but this doesn’t mean that it’s a sexy message to share. In times of privacy awareness and easy backlashes, the Spotify team found a way to talk about data, making it funny and extremely shareable.

From an analyst POV, the type of consumer insights that Spotify published might not be representative of the whole consumers’ base (sometimes not even a niche), and that’s exactly its strength. It’s mainly based, in fact, on the outliers of a huge amount of data.

…the weirdos. Which constitute much more interesting stories to tell than mere numbers.

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So it does the job, as in: it makes people have something to joke about and share with the others, it makes them feel more connected to the brand.

But please, be aware that it doesn’t always go well. There’s a fine line between “understanding their consumers” as said about Spotify, and being “intrusive” and “tone-deaf”, as Revolut has been defined for its Spotify-style campaign.

These nuances in the approach to consumer insights should be never taken in a superficial way: my advice is to try understanding the culture and the values of the people we’re trying to reach before launching something confidential out there. Money is certainly not music, and consumer behaviour/cognitive implications are very different across product categories and topics.

You can watch the video here.


4creative / Channel 4: Meet the Superhumans

(picked by Mike Stevens, consumer insights expert, Founder of Insight Platforms)

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Consumer insight. Ladies & gentlemen, a case of anti-insight, as Mike called it. When Channel 4 became official broadcaster of the Paralympics, just 14% of the population said they were looking forward to the event. But, as research showed viewers uncomfortable with a physical disability, the campaign went all-in with it.

Action. Channel 4 strategy for the London 2012 Paralympic Games was to make the event the biggest in the tv channel’s history and have an impact on the perception of a complex issue.

And they did: it was their biggest marketing push in 30 years and it used a new, powerful narrative on Paralympic athletes. This resulted in huge audience participation (peak of Channel 4’s last 10 years) and a cultural shift towards a topic that is influencing millions of people’s lives.

Some stats from D&AD case study:

  • 64%* of the population agreed that the Paralympics were as good as the Olympics
  • 69%* of viewers said it was the first time they had made the effort to watch the Paralympics
  • 65%* of viewers felt Channel 4’s coverage had had a favourable impact on their perceptions of people with disabilities
  • 82%* agreed that disabled athletes were as talented as able-bodied — 91% among those who had watched the coverage
  • London 2012 Paralympics become the first Paralympic Games to sell out

You can watch the video here. Also, as a follow-up of Meet the Superhumans, We’re the Superhumans was produced by Channel 4 to promote its broadcast of the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

What should we learn from this? Don’t fear the ugly truth.

It happens a lot. We seek insights on consumers, and they’re not always pretty. But they’re worth it, especially if we’re willing to listen and draft a brave, creative strategy based on them. Like in the case of Channel 4: coming to understand people’s reluctance towards disabilities was not exactly a pretty truth, but they took the challenge of shifting that perception for a greater good. Having measured the depth and breadth of the challenge with consumer insights enabled Channel 4 to take the risk and succeed.


Ogilvy UK / Time To Change: Be In Your Mate’s Corner

(picked by Patrick Collins, Creative Agency Lead at Google and creator of the — really, really cool — Because The Internet newsletter)

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Consumer insight. One in four men fights mental problems. Who or what can step in to help?

Action. Time to Change is a social movement working to change the way people think and act about mental health problems.

Ogilvy worked with them on this mission and kicked off a 5-year Time to Change campaign with ‘Be in your mate’s corner’.

With men no strangers to stepping up to the plate when their friends are physically in need, the campaign is a call for men to rise to the occasion in the same way where mental health is concerned.

I could find out only stats from Time To Change up to phase two of the strategy, so if you are from Ogilvy and you worked in the campaign, I would love to update here with your data on the perception of the campaign.

You can watch the video here. And here is the second episode, Time to Change — Ask Twice

What should we learn from this? That we have to speak their language.

Consumers are people, really.

The way they speak and perceive things are two pieces of insights that all people working to reach them and have an impact should always care of.

In this case, Time To Change and Ogilvy talked about an uncomfortable topic in a way that resonates well with the target, in its own words. And people find it simple and brilliant.


Leo Burnett / Always: Keep Going Like a Girl

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Consumer insight. At puberty, nearly half of girls (49%) feel paralysed by the fear of failure (based on a 2017 study among 1,000 UK women aged 16–24 years).

Action. The original #LikeAGirl social experiment launched in 2014 was the start of what Always calls an epic battle: changing the perception of the expression “like a girl” and boosting girls’ confidence all over the world.

Since then, Always campaigns became synonymous of young women’ empowerment and reached a huge quantity of audiences.

In 2017, #LikeAGirl campaign was tweaked by the “fear of failing” insight to encourage girls everywhere to embrace failure as fuel to build confidence & Keep Going #LikeAGirl.

You can watch the video here. Here is #LikeAGirl original campaign

What should we learn from this? Keep searching for what matters.

Consistency is key in a branding strategy, so the best action we can take here is to keep studying the audiences, their needs and worldview, what matters for them, why they make specific choices, who and what influences them.

If I were working at Always, I’d wonder how girls communicate and gather in groups, as I've acknowledged through research that the social factor is extremely important at that age, almost for defining the self.


Clemenger BBDO / Snickers (Mars): Hungerithm

(picked by Rob Estreitinho, Senior Strategist at VCCP Kin and Salmon’s Theory philosophy newsletter author)

Consumer insight. Twitter is often used as a ranting tool, especially at mealtime. Worth gamifing this behaviour?

Action. Increase Snickers’s penetration in a stagnant category like chocolate confectionery is quite a challenge.

BBDO and Snickers, in partnership with 7 Eleven, came up with a sort of gamification of the consumer insight: the Snickers Hungerithm.

Hungerithm is an hungry-algorithm that analyses Twitter’s anger levels through social listening and automated sentiment analysis: the angrier the sentiment, the lower the price of a Snickers bar in the 7 Eleven next to you.

The campaign resulted in 350 million media impressions and a 67% sales increase of Snickers bars.

You can watch the video here.

What should we learn from this? Integrate social data to increase sales.

As well explained by Rob, social is often used as a pure broadcast channel with little relation to commercial needs. This is a brilliant idea of how you can look at data in a creative way, turn it into something that lands your brand message and link it to retail activity.


Multiple Agencies* / American Express Business: Small Business Saturday

*Over the course of five years, the Small Business Saturday campaign has been supported by numerous agencies including Digitas, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, M Booth & Associates, MindShare, Ogilvy & Mather and Wieden + Kennedy.

Consumer insight. It’s 2010, and small businesses are struggling because of the economic recession. But, 93% of consumers agree it’s important to support small business.


In an effort to support local shops that make our communities strong, American Express launched Small Business Saturday® on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to bring more holiday shopping to small businesses.

This was the beginning of the Shop Small® Movement story.

Over the years, Small Business Saturday spending has now reached a reported estimate of $103 billion since the day began in 2010 — that’s $103 billion over 9 days alone. It also powered a community of 7,500 Neighborhood Champions across all US: individuals and organizations that rally their communities with events and activities on Small Business Saturday.

Finally, it’s also bringing the values of shopping small beyond the event’s timeframe, making people support their communities all year long.

You can watch the video here. There’s also a dedicated playlist.

What should we learn from this? When we solve a large scale real problem for actual people (our consumers), chances are we can start a movement.

I’m biased here, ’cause I love shopping small and I study communities and movements, so I guess I’m in love with this campaign for obvious reasons.

But I want to stress the “problem” element here: if we replace “small businesses” with our target audience and we “find in the information about them a way to make them thrive”, we have a win. Actually, a win-win ;)

Be that in the right timing (here is the other part of insight), it just became a national cause: the still-struggling economy after the depths of the recession had even the White House drumming the need for small businesses to re-emerge.

American Express and the creative agencies’ efforts went way beyond the comms to do lists and actively tried to meet a business goal, by creating value for Amex Business consumers.


Wieden & Kennedy London / Three: Holiday Spam

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Consumer insight — part 1. By 2015, Three had grown to 9m customers, especially through focus on data deals and low prices. But the company was suffering the highest churn rate in the category, so they decided to understand better their consumers in order to

  • make them loyal
  • acquire more loyal consumers
  • improve customer lifetime value

They segmented the customer base and then worked across the segments to discover common insights regarding the mobile network world.

Here is what they found out:

  1. The whole category was mistrusted and badly perceived: people think that mobile networks companies are as bad as politicians
  2. How did the customers feel? Bad! They were largely feeling treated unfairly
  3. One particular pain point came up again and again: all consumers of all brands were being charged extra for roaming abroad — using their phone to make calls, send messages or access the Internet. As a result, only 25% of them used mobile data abroad, with 25% turning their phones off altogether for the duration of their trip.

Action 1 — Strategy/marketing. The marketing direction decided, based on the rich consumer insights gathered, to take a challenger brand stand and change a common mobile networks practice that was affecting all the consumers: the extra-charges abroad.

They decided to let people use their phone abroad at no extra cost so that consumers could “Feel at Home” and Three could be market-first in something they deeply cared for.

When Three launched the service, the positive reaction was said to be “overwhelming”.

So Three decided to keep gathering insights.

Consumer insight — part 2. Observing the consumers’ behaviour in using the new offer, Three has seen not much calls and text but an increment in data usage of 71%.

People were mainly using their phones’ data to publish photos of their holidays on social networks. A huge social phenomenon called by the media “braggie”.

Action 2 — Marketing/communications

So next step for the mobile company was to playfully embrace its consumers’ behaviour: Three, in fact, encouraged consumers to publish their photos using the #holidaybraggie hashtag, and then created a campaign to talk to the people affected by this ‘Holiday Spam’.

The campaign led to a 90% increase in Three’s social conversation volume, higher brand metrics and customers saving a collective £2.7bn on roaming charges. Customer acquisition and churn saving were doubled among the new consumers. 

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This resulted in doubling down the investment for a second campaign based on the same strategy.

You can watch the video here.

What should we learn from this? Gain consumer insights to struck a chord with consumers.

Three’s strategy from data to creative messages seems to have an ideal structure:

  1. Identify the business problem in the data— Customer lifetime value, churn rate, NPS…
  2. Gather data to answer that query
  3. Cluster the data and try to spot patterns, correlations, signals and outliers
  4. Form strategy based on consumer insights
  5. Be extremely creative, memorable
  6. Test and
  7. Deeg deeper into the data, and repeat


Fractl: Can Biometrics Predict a Viral Marketing Campaign?

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This is a bit of an outsider here, as it’s research powered by campaigns more than a campaign powered by research, but I’d like to include it as representative of different data types.

Action. Jacob L.H. Jones, Matthew Gillespie and Kelsey Libert from Fractl have conducted research on whether biometrics can predict a viral marketing campaign.

Galvanic skin response (GSR, which measures the skin’s resistance to a very mild electrical current), has been demonstrated to be a strong predictor of emotional arousal, and emotional arousal is known to be a crucial ingredient for viral content.

The study consisted of showing people a mix of popular and unpopular content and recording GSR. The researchers coupled these data with follow-up questions, such as: “Were you engaged in this content? Do you think you would share this?” and so on.

Consumer insight. With this kind of biometrics, they were able to predict the viral outcome of a piece of content significantly better than was possible via any of the usual survey measures.

What should we learn from this? In general, I agree with the research saying people are just pretty bad at knowing how they feel and why they feel that way.

We’ve seen this while comparing observational methods like netnography with survey research and consumer panels. Results sometimes differ, a lot.

Biometrics such as galvanic skin response, eye tracking, and EEG (electroencephalogram) can reveal new layers of understanding and consumer insights for us to use in addition to cheaper and more established methodologies.


Ogilvy — Multiple Agencies* / Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty

*Over the course of the years, many agencies worked on Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty from Ogilvy London, Toronto, Dusseldorf, New York and Chicago. Read more

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Consumer insight. The initial campaign main consumer insights were:

  1. only 4 per cent of women consider themselves beautiful
  2. 50% of women think that female beauty is too narrowly defined
  3. ⅔ of all women say that media and advertising set unrealistic standards

Action. Ogilvy & Mather and Dove’s Real Beauty campaign was conceived in 2004 during a 3-year creative strategic research effort, conducted in partnership with three universities in four cities around the world, led by Joah Santos.

The aim of the campaign was to celebrate the Real Beauty — the natural physical variation embodied by all women — and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves (source).

Perhaps the first campaign to change a cultural perception starting from a marketing strategy, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” matched high understanding/empathy towards the target audiences with a shared effort across countries and agencies. This resulted in a remarkably targeted yet broad reach and long-lasting impact.

The 10-year-old campaign changed the conversation in advertising and beyond, as well described by Jack Neff in the Adage dossier (Dove was rated the best ad campaign of the 21st Century)

As for the business goal, Dove’s sales have increased from $2.5 billion to well over $4 billion during the campaign.

You can watch some videos:

“Campaign For real Beauty” — Dove film by Ogilvy

Real Beauty Sketches


What should we learn from this? Ah, the power of representing people as they are.

Really, I mean, it’s that simple. It’s about understanding consumers’ worldview so that the creative message resonates with them.

Even better when we spot a recurring misconception of any of the consumers’ values/cultural aspects that’s making them uncomfortable, angry or sad.

Like in the case of Dove and Ogilvy, the campaign’s biggest strength was understanding that women didn’t want to be represented with impossible beauty canons: this factor was having a bad impact on their self-esteem and relationship with beauty and beauty products. 


AMV BBDO / BT: It’s Good to Talk

Consumer insight. This is a pre-data hype case, just to remark the timeless importance of consumer insights in advertising.

It’s an extremely educational, and iconic piece of advertising history that recently came up thanks to the effort of Dave Dye (thanks, Dave!)

David Abbott starts the pitch with BT’s own research. BT is a company that can’t afford to ignore the human condition, he says, and after diagnosing the current campaigns’ results on consumers, he goes through some precious consumer insights relative to their phone usage: how do men and women use the phone and why?

He then gives deeper context to these pieces of information, talking about the great change that men are going through and remarking that men and women have more characteristics in common than they do in opposition.

Action. After about ten minutes of consumer insights, Abbott reveals the strategic direction of the campaign, that leverages the consumer understanding into a simple yet impactful plan: support women users and directly challenge the bad habits and attitudes of men.

He also introduces the ad celebrity, Bob Hoskins. He explains Bob’s role as a messenger, which is to lecture the audience and praise women at the expense of men.

He finally goes through the endlessly variable format of “It’s good to talk” campaign, its scripts and execution.

The campaign is one of the most iconic and remembered in the history of telecommunications providers, and in case you didn’t before, now you know how it all started. ;)

You can watch the video of the pitch here.

What should we learn from this? Simply said, to leverage consumer behaviour for advertising effectiveness. Which is NOT efficiency (see below the efficiency tactics) and, as mentioned by Abbott a few times, should ultimately lead to sales.

Also, we’ve learned here that consumers’ behaviour and advertising strategy are strongly interconnected. Beyond efficiency tactics — optimization, programmatic etc — the real deal, which is the strategy, should always have a strong base of consumers understanding.


Multiple Agencies* / Durex: #Connect Campaign

Consumer insight. Durex found out that technology was having a negative impact on people’s sex lives and relationships.

Some shocking or rather depressing stats:

  • 75% of people use a phone when they are having a meal with their partners
  • 40% think technology has a negative impact on their relationships and
  • 30% are distracted by technology when they are being intimate.

To sum it up, we touch our phones more than our partners, says Ukonwa Ojo, Head of Global Brand Equity for Durex, explaining how and why the #Connect campaign was generated.

Action. The number 1 enemy of Durex is the absence of sex — For us, any enemy of sex is an enemy of Durex — so the brand team decided to involve all the partner agencies (*creative, PR, social and media plus Google, see image below) in the common effort of starting a global conversation around this problem: tech has a bad impact on people sex lives.

Durex first came up with the #TurnOffToTurnOn campaign: a global wake-up call inviting people to switch off their tech and reconnect with each other during Earth Hour.

#TurnOffToTurnOn was a great success, so they went all in with their mission with a second action: the #Connect campaign. They launched at the MWC Barcelona (largest mobile event in the world) a “sexy new smartphone technology” that promised to improve the sex lives of millions of people around the world.

Spoiler here: turns out, this incredible invention is simply the off button. :) The message was funny and easy to share around, especially given the growing usage of mobile tech (and consequential concern around it).

Results: #Connect beat even the best expectations of reach, generating free global buzz and virality around Durex core issue (people should have more sex). It has also positioned Durex as a leader of a movement, with great results in brand equity and perception.

  • 3.9 billion campaign impressions, of which 88% were earned
  • 62 million YouTube views and claimed the top spot as the most watched viral ad in the world for three weeks in a row
  • Brand Likeability went up 2000 basis points, from an already high starting point
  • Brand Recommendation increased 1900 points
  • Purchase Intent went up by 2000 points
  • Social and cultural impact: it inspired consumers to connect more with their partners, up 1500 points.

You can watch the case study video here.

What should we learn from this? How to spot extremely relevant (potentially viral) consumer insights and lead a movement in the industry.

Ukonwa calls them human insights, those CI that concern cultural conversations and human behaviours (we, researcher, assume all CI should be like that).

However you want to call them, it’s important to be analytical about the socio-cultural context of the people you’re trying to reach and how this context impacts their behaviour in regard to the brand. This context includes technology and all the so-called environmental stimuli.


(if you want to know more about this graph and CI, you can find info in the CI Ultimate Guide: The Why and the How of Consumer Insights Today)

So let’s reverse engineer the case of Durex: tech is an environmental stimolous for the behaviour of Durex consumers (direct trigger according to the insights above: the more the tech usage, the less the sex, and so the Durex usage).

Consumers are aware of the trigger and its impact, and when reminded of that, they feel aligned with the brand in condemning the outcome of it (having less sex and human connection). They are reminded of a behaviour that they’re not proud of, it hurts.

Here comes the value of Durex marketing and message. Durex proposes:

  1. solution to the pain of being reminded that we don’t have enough sex and we’re drowining our relationships in lack of attention/interactions
  2. a way to feel better about ourselves by condemning something else instead of our own behaviour. It’s tech’s fault.

We could say that the brand-consumers relationship established consists in finding a common enemy: tech, indeed. Quite a popular statement, easy to believe in and to share around. It’s tech’s fault, everybody agrees.

So it works, massively.

This is the start of some “Less Tech More Connections and Sex” movement led by the Durex brand, in fact.

So the questions you should be asking yourself are:

  1. What is the economic, technological, political, socio-cultural and natural environment of the consumers you’re trying to reach?
  2. What would they like to change about it? Are there triggers that these humans hate/don’t like/fear — so they have a reason to join you in a battle against THAT common enemy?
  3. What is the one thing they are embarrassed about and how can we help rewrite the narrative on themselves?

I highly suggest you watch the Durex case study here. Ukonwa Ojo, Head of Global Brand Equity, takes you through the #Connect campaign journey from insight to impact. She is amazing, both in terms of knowledge and charisma. I learnt a lot from this presentation.


News Corp / Australian Heart Foundation: Australia’s Biggest Serial Killer

(published by Mark Ritson, Marketing professor and columnist)

Consumer insight. A scary one, this time. :( The Australia’s Biggest Serial Killer campaign is based on the statistic that every day more than 50 Australians die from heart disease.

Action. Despite the ever increasing rates of heart disease, the Australian Heart Foundation was facing declining awareness and a drastic reduction in charitable support for its activities.

The solution they came up with, together with News Corp Australia, was a news media campaign that used news media advertising, wraparounds, editorial support and integration into TV and digital assets to generate awareness on a large scale.

Results (in the first week):

  • 2,000 stories about heart disease from other media in 7 days
  • visits to the Heart Foundation website up 300%
  • and almost 200,000 Australians have taken the heart health online test in just one week
  • both the Australian Government and opposition party pledged $400 million to support heart health efforts and cited the serial killer campaign as instrumental in their respective decisions.

(img source: the original post by Mark on Linkedin)

What should we learn from this? How to buffer an insight with the help of news media (and have an impact on institutions/decision makers).

In the elucidative words of Mark: “There is no superior advertising medium. But too often marketers are ignoring the potential of news media. The combination of trust, awareness, agenda setting and societal impact still make news media campaigns — across both print and digital formats — a tremendous brand building option. Saves a few lives too.


FCB Inferno / The Big Issue: Change Please

(picked by Rob Estreitinho, Senior Strategist at VCCP Kin and Salmon’s Theory philosophy newsletter author)

Consumer insight. In contrast to the ailing magazine industry, the £8 billion coffee industry in the UK is booming. An individual might purchase a magazine once a fortnight but easily buys multiple coffees every week, often walking past a Big Issue vendor to queue up in a major coffee chain.

In simple words, people ignore Big Issue sellers, but happily pay £3 for coffee.

Action. The challenge was to get people to care about homelessness.

The Change Please campaign consisted in a new coffee brand, as opposed to an ad, launched in partnership with The Big Issue that simply asked people to change where they buy their coffee to change the world.

This resulted in £1m revenue and a 5% YoY increase in sales. Not to mention the social impact of it (see images below)

You can check out the FBC Inferno 2 min video on the case study here or read about it here.

What should we learn from this? To uncover a different angle in the consumer insights (that would make our message effective). As Rob teaches us here: “Planners’ responsibility is to always find a new way into the brief that the client might not have thought possible. Sometimes that means changing what the ads say. Other — rare — times it means changing the need to advertise altogether.


72andSunny Amsterdam / Lynx: Is it OK for Guys

(picked by Patrick Collins, Creative Agency Lead at Google and creator of the — really, really cool — Because The Internet newsletter)

Consumer insight. What does it mean to be a man? What is masculinity today?

Lynx partnered with Google to explore young men’ online searches. The kind of consumer insights that came up speak the truth about their problems, insecurities and especially the concerns around masculinity (young men wonder how manly they are or not).

Insights from the most common queries like, “Is it ok for a guy to do yoga?” and “Can men wear pink?” confirmed Lynx hunches that young men still feel pressure to live up to classic masculine ideals and labels (source).

Action. Once it identified its target audience’s problem, Lynx spotted a great opportunity in trying to solve it.

With the help of 72andSunny Amsterdam, they turned the embarrassing questions into 13 unique, contextually targeted long-form and bumper ads on YouTube, offering value and a friendly reassurance in over 30 popular YouTube topics (food, sports, fashion/style…) to target audiences (people already searching for in-topic content).

What does it mean? So, for example, if a guy searched for a YouTube video related to cooking, he would see the “is it ok for guys to cook” bumper ad and a CTA to watch the full version.

To generate trust and influence, the team behind the campaign involved YouTube creators, celebrity influencers, and even a World Heavyweight Champion to respond to guys’ most common questions about masculinity.

How did the campaign go? Pretty well, it seems ;)


What should we learn from this? The easiest, shortest way to provide value to consumers is to answer their questions.

Think about it: the main scope of getting consumer insights is to deeply connect with consumers, to matter to them, and there is no better way of doing it than providing them value. Now, knowing what they’re asking online is the base of a successful value-based relationship: they ask, and we turn up with answers and solutions. It’s that simple, really.


Multiple Agencies and Brands: the ASMR Trend

Consumer insight. There are millions of ASMR videos on YouTube that have racked up billions of views (source: CNBC). It’s definitely a trend, especially among young audiences, that find the ritual of ASMR part of their everyday life.


For the ones that don’t know what ASMR stands for, it’s autonomous sensory meridian response. It’s an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It is usually triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli (someone whispering into a microphone or the comforting sound of froth, for example). All in all, it feels like a deeply relaxing sensation.

The ASMR Youtube trend sees over 13 million videos uploaded. Some of the top ASMR channels have over 2 billion views.

The term was first coined in 2010, but the popularity has exploded since then. Brands like Dove, KFC and Lynx have all jumped on the bandwagon, following pioneers like York (which is mentioned by the ASMR community as being the first spot — it was 2009, by Arnold NYC).

Recently, Anheuser-Busch even created an ASMR Michelob Ultra ad for the Super Bowl, tapping into this online culture and bringing it mainstream.

And last but not least, Apple posted a first series of four ASMR videos to its YouTube page, advertising the company’s “shot on iPhone” campaign. Best enjoyed with headphones — says the spot.

Question is: is using ASMR worth it?

The first data we have on the actual outcomes is from Ogilvy’s campaign “Oddly IKEA.” The commercial, a 24-minute-long ASMR piece that showed off different products for the college dorm, went viral and helped to increase IKEA’s “Back to College” sales by 27 per cent from the previous year.

Della Mathew, Ogilvy Group Creative Director, explained why to CNBC. What happened was the community, the ASMR community, and the influencers who are making this type of content really embraced how genuinely we tried to do it. Like, really, from concept through production we really tried to stay true to the ASMR community. And so, I think that also helped because they themselves were promoting our content.

So we know it works for young audiences, but we don’t yet have the data to back up the other campaigns’ success (or, if you have worked on one of them, as usual, reach out to me).

What should we learn from this? It’s powerful to leverage online cultures that resonate with the target audiences.

Premised that I’m sceptical about the one size fits all approach, as in, we should really make sure that the ASMR experience resonates with the campaign’s target audience, exploring online trends and cultures can bring real engagement and convert into sales.

As weird as they sound at a first look, there are thousands of rituals out there that can make audiences engage with a brand. It’s all about finding the ones that are aligned with the brand’s mission and culture.


Multiple Agencies* / P&G Febreze: Breathe Happy

(published by Mark Ritson, Marketing professor and columnist)

*The campaign launch was led by Grey and included Starcom MediaVest Group, Possible Worldwide, MSL Group, G2.

Consumer insight.

It’s 2011 and Procter and Gamble’s Febreze has generated its first billion dollars in sales globally.

Behind the scenes though, there are some concerns from the Febreze team: the two major competitors Glade and Airwick are catching up and their messages look astonishingly similar to Febreze own. This first insight was generated by research on consumers’ perception of the ads and showed how consumers couldn’t tell which ad belonged to which brand.

It’s a time of a lack of differentiation and commodification of the product, described by Ritson as a classic marketing moment where points of differentiation become points of parity and strong brands become commodified and genericized.

In times like this, brands with the premium price, in this case, Febreze, have the most to lose.

To make matters worse, the annual brand tracking showed that the attribute of odour elimination — which had traditionally belonged to Febreze — had lost its strength. The market was likely to think that Airwick or Glade owned that attribute just as strongly as Febreze.

In sums, Febreze found out through research on consumers that its point of differentiation along with the distinctiveness of its advertising had all disappeared into genericism. Sales also backed this up by slowing down.

Instead of betting on blind tactics, the Febreze team opted for what Riston calls diagnosis (brand diagnosis, part of brand management as he teaches: the first part diagnosis, the next strategy, the final part tactics).

The diagnosis scope is to:

  1. understand market, competition, category and brand, and
  2. work out what the problem is

and use that to generate strategy, which will lead to tactics, which will lead to success.

In the case of Febreze, multiple research methods were used to run this diagnosis and provide meaningful consumer insights.

Through a mix of qualitative and quantitative research, the Febreze team was able to find out key insights such as:

  1. a welcoming home was still one of the prime directives for the target market
  2. importance of removing malodours
  3. a messy home can still be clean but a smelly home can never be clean
  4. when you walk into an unappealing room you can close your eyes but you can’t turn off your nose (quote from customer reached with ethnographic research)
  5. the three major brands were all the same and they had all broken promises to the customer, so no one believed their claims anymore
  6. Febreze no longer owned the attribute of odour elimination
  7. on all the main attributes the three major brands were seen as being the same

They were also able to pre-test the creative messages.


The strategy that emerged from the diagnosis looked like this:

The integrated campaign (digital, TV, events sponsorships) started with a series of ads set in a filthy-but-Febreze-smelling environment in which blindfolded consumers were asked to enter and work out where they were.

Their description of the place (based on what they smelled, clean and fresh) versus the reality they faced when the blindfolds were removed (dirty, filthy) gives a clear message that Febreze wanted to come across: Febreze makes the filthiest place smell nice.

As reported by the Marketing Week, the results exceeded expectations showing outstripping sales increase and brand attribution targets: 84% of the people that watched the ads, in fact, attributed odour elimination with Febreze.

You can watch “Mark Ritson on the effectiveness of Febreze’s award-winning ad” here. It’s part of the Effies series.

What should we learn from this? In Mark’s own words, you can’t solve a problem that you don’t first understand.

Mark does a great job of debunking the complexity of brand management and placing research in context with strategy and execution, right at the top.

I 100% agree that too often brands’ teams seem to focus on the wrong problems and try out non-informed tactics, so they end up wasting an enormous amount of time, energies and money.

The solution to this huge strategic problem is betting on consumer insights obtained from both qualitative analysis and quantitative analysis and focusing on the consumers’ needs, cultures and behaviours related to the brand.

You can’t skip the diagnosis if you want to be strategic.

From a researcher POV, I’d add that it’s researchers and consumer insights experts’ own responsibility to meet the strategists and marketers at that step by starting with the business problem


Digitas & Ketchum / Whirlpool: Care Counts

(picked by Rob Estreitinho, Senior Strategist at VCCP Kin and Salmon’s Theory philosophy newsletter author)

Consumer insight. Millions of children in the US are less likely to graduate due to chronic absenteeism. And those who drop out have a 70% higher chance of unemployment, 70% higher chance of needing welfare, and are 8 times more likely to end up in prison.

All of this is deeply concerning, but it’s rather shocking to find out why.

1 in 5 children struggles with access to clean clothes and thousands miss school every day because of it.

Could the simple act of laundry make or break a child’s future? If so, how can Whirlpool help affected families thrive again? are the main questions and challenges of the research and strategy conducted by the Care Counts team: an integrated team of creatives, technologists and data experts that designed and launched the Care Counts™ Laundry Program.

Action. The Care Counts Laundry Program is a real-life, documented experiment on the power of care, a new brand purpose for Whirlpool that was itself the result of insightful research (where they found out that “Behind every chore is an act of love” and decided to re-humanize the lifeless category of washing machines with empathy and emotional connection).

The program began with teachers and administrators in 17 schools across the country, who identified their students most in need to participate. Whirlpool installed specially modified washing machines and dryers in the schools, each fitted with a data-collection device that was designed and developed to record loads of laundry and attribute each wash to individual students.

The data collected on laundry usage was correlated with attendance and performance data for each child. They also asked teachers at each school to periodically complete a simple survey on student attitude and engagement changes.

Essentially, by installing washing machines and dryers in schools, the people at Whirlpool, Digitas and Ketchum were hoping that kids wouldn’t miss out on their classes.

Did it work?

In the first year of the program, Care Counts™ washed over 2,300 loads of laundry in

17 schools. The results were staggering:

  • 90% of the students saw a significant increase in attendance
  • 95% of students were more motivated in class
  • 89% of students improved their classroom participation
  • 95% of students were more likely to participate in extracurricular activities

The analysis of the data had revealed that students were in school an average of 6.1 more

days than the previous year, and “at-risk students” who had missed more than 10 days in the

previous year saw an increase in attendance of almost two weeks.

Due to the success of Care Counts™, over 1000+ schools in all 50 states have expressed

interest in the program, that has sparked the interest of government and education officials.

You can watch the video here.

What should we learn from this?

This is one of the best practices of working our way back to “the why” through data I came across in the adland.

  1. The team investigated thoroughly a problem aligned with the brand’s purpose: care.
  2. It then identified one of the triggers where the brand could potentially have an impact (lack of washing machines leading to kids’ future)
  3. and set in action a great strategy.

It was only when we shifted focus to look at where and when care was absent that we got closer to finding where the brand’s purpose could be put into action. Care Counts™


Multiple Agencies* / The Hershey Company: Reese’s Halloween Candy Converter

*Agency mix: Anomaly (creative agency), Zeno Group (PR), in-house (brand and earned media)

Consumer insight.

Everybody knows that Halloween is a big moment for candy brands. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans spend $2.6 billion on Halloween candy.

Getting deeper into the Halloween consumers behaviour, there is the unwanted candy phenomenon.

In a survey commissioned by Reese’s, 90 per cent of Americans said they wish they could trade their unwanted Halloween candy, and four out of five people say they’d like to swap it for a Reese’s peanut butter cup.


With the goal of dominating the candy conversation leading up to Halloween, Reese’s launched last year a “Reese’s Halloween Candy Converter Machine”: a vending machine that accepts unwanted candy and exchanges it for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

The campaign started on October 28th at the Tarrytown Halloween Parade in New York, where the converter distributed around 2,500 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, went social (IG, Twitter, Facebook) and ended up in NYC Washington Square Park on Halloween night where an additional 10,000 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were handed out in exchange for trick-or-treaters’ sugary rejects (source)

Results? The campaign generated more than 1,300 media placements in the three days leading up to Halloween, including Good Morning America, Food & Wine, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and BuzzFeed, organically involved influencers and led social media conversations and engagement on the official channels of Reese.

You can watch the video here.

What should we learn from this? How to leverage consumer insights for great PR.

The information that lies behind the newsjacking campaign — the fact that people are not happy with some of the candy received and would gladly swap them for Reese’s — is what drives the conversation across media.

Why? Because it’s about us, people, and not the brand itself. It’s funny and personal. It holds a big identification power and for this reason, it sounds almost too simple and obvious: who hasn’t experienced receiving unwanted candy at Halloween?

This simple yet savvy approach plus the media need for topic-related news (i.e. during Halloween media want to speak about Halloween) result in an easy to spread message that makes the brand worth talking about.


Pret: Pret’s Little Veggie Pop-up

(published by Cihan Oklap, MS Business Analytics & Marketing, Duke University)

Consumer insight 1.

Back in 2015 Clive Schlee, the CEO of Pret, was noting the shift towards vegetarian choices among Pret consumers.

“I regularly look at Pret’s sales mix to see which food categories are growing and which are shrinking. Recently, there has been a distinct shift toward vegetarian. The top-selling SuperBowl in our latest salad launch was Beets, Squash & Feta, beating chicken, salmon and crayfish alternatives. This would have been unheard of five years ago” said Clive in his blog post, starting a proper vegetarian debate for the first time.

Action and consumer insight 2.

Pret was aware of the growing interest in non-meat options, yet not ready to make a dramatic shift and give up on its loyal customers and their habits/needs (back then the best-selling item was Chicken Caesar & Bacon baguette).

So the first step was to publicly propose to open a vegetarian Pret A Manger shop and launch a poll to discover what people thought on that.

Nearly ten thousand people voted and an engaged conversation sparked in social media.


Looking at the results of the vegetarian debate, they decided to convert a Pret A Manger store in London into a “Pret’s Little Veggie Pop-up” for a month (and additional veggie-focused actions, such as improving labelling to call out vegetarian and vegan dishes more clearly and increasing the number of vegetarian and vegan products in the shops).


They framed the Little Veggie Pop Up as an investment (i.e. a loss-maker, they predicted the shop would see sales drop by up to 30%). As such, they had two objectives:

  1. Challenge their chefs to come up with new delicious veggie and vegan options
  2. Discover what Pret’s customers would like to see on Pret’s shelves permanently

Feedback was unexpected and overwhelming. The Little Veggie Pop Up shop on Broadwick Street was made permanent and sales grew over 70% in the first year. People hugely supported the experiment through social media and would make a trip across the city to be part of the conversation.

More importantly, the team and the CEO learned a lot about their vegetarian consumers. Consumer insights pulled out of the experience included a fastly growing demand for vegan meals and a boom in sweet choices.

The impact of Veggie Little Shop in the following years is clear: Pret now has four veggie shops and, more importantly, an ever-growing veggie menu in all the shops.

You can watch the Veggie Pret video here.

What should we learn from this? Research — test — change.

This is the magic formula that Pret’s CEO and the team followed in an authentic and brave way.

One step at the time and sharing each step with Pret’s consumers, they sensed a growing trend early on (vegetarian and vegan consumption) and then measured it in a small, actionable sample. Finally, they embedded the consumer insights learned into the business.

This simple formula places consumers at the centre of the business and allows the business to innovate and keep up with their ever-changing demand.

Shifts in consumers need and behaviours can be scary but, on the other hand, can reveal huge opportunities — if analysed properly and the research — test — change strategy is one of the easiest to implement.


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