On Gendered Children’s Toys

18 Nov

Earlier this month we saw the release of a new advert from Smyth’s the Toy Store which was hailed by campaigners as a step forward in the right direction for gender-neutral children’s toys.

In the ad, Smyth’s feature a young boy playing in his imagination, being a robot, flying the Millennium Falcon and dressed in a pink dress as a queen. Although not the main focus of the advert, the image of a boy in a typically female outfit has been applauded for its forward thinking and the nuanced way in which it portrayed the breaking of gender norms. This is only strengthened by the adverts choice of backing song- a cover of female pop icon Beyoncé’s ‘If I Were A Boy’, reimagined to read ‘If I Were A Toy’.



Rather than tackle the gendered toys themselves, Smyth’s have instead chosen to allow children to decide for themselves what toys are for them, and have given them the space to define their own version of masculinity and femininity as they wish.

Whilst depicting childhood play in this way would have once been considered a bold and daring move, the understated tone of this advert suggests the topic is becoming more and more normalised- It is now just another one of many themes toy brands can choose to engage with.

A step back in time with Burberry’s Christmas ad

16 Nov


With the release of its Christmas advert Burberry continues fashion’s lengthy relationship with film with a three minute “trailer” spanning over 50 years of British history. The tale takes us from Thomas Burberry’s invention of gabardine in 1879 to Betty Kirby-Green’s record-breaking flight from England to Cape Town in 1937. Burberry emphasises the fact that this advert has been “160 years in the making”, placing the heritage of the brand firmly centre-stage as we follow the founder and his various pioneering exploits (notwithstanding a dose of creative licence with the chronology).

Despite describing itself as a timeless brand and producing timeless pieces, in this advert Burberry is anchoring itself in another time, not our own. The notions of innovation, invention and exploration come through loud and clear but there is little attempt to update these notions for today’s audience, and so the question arises, how does Burberry want and intend a modern viewer to relate to the story told? Doubtless these concepts are compelling but the brand hasn’t realigned them to their modern incarnations; while the mind-set of innovators, inventors and explorers may not have changed much in 200 years, their paths, behaviours and outputs certainly have.

The cinematography is undeniably beautiful, the story reasonably captivating, the ad brimming with stars but in short, visual form and narrative outweigh brand and product content. The storytelling is impeccable, but is it really the story that Burberry needs to be telling in the face of ailing sales?

Winning Christmas

11 Nov




It wasn’t long ago that Christmas adverts decried the hassle of the festive season – with harried mums struggling to cope with the myriad demands placed upon them. This year, the Christmas tone of voice has changed – it has become empowered. The adverts we have seen so far show Christmas as something to be tackled head on and decisively won.

House of Fraser’s ad begins in a playfully sinister way, with festive tropes creeping towards their unsuspecting victims, but ends with the gleeful declaration that “Christmas is Coming for You”. Argos celebrates eagerness and excitement, with multi-coloured yetis hurtling through snowy streets towards the tagline #justcantwait. The Morrison’s ad shows a gutsy little boy challenging his grandfather at Trivial Pursuit, and Tesco simply tells us to “bring it on.”

This vision of Christmas is bold and assertive. It is positive and self-assured, and feels culturally tuned in. It seems to echo many of the sentiments we’ve seen throughout other seasons of this year. It borrows the empowered language of sports brands from Nike to Sports England’s #thisgirlcan campaign, it takes the energy and optimism of this year’s slew of life advice books (from Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo to Bloom by Estee Lalonde), and reflects the Instagram universe of motivational quotes.

Unlike some recent years, the tone of this Christmas’s adverts is anything but stressed – instead it is bold, emphatic and empowered. Christmas is now something you can win at.

A John Lewis Christmas Retrospective

10 Nov

It’s that time of year again, and as the Christmas ads start rolling in, there’s one in particular that has become a key cultural event for all of us in the UK. With the release today of ‘Buster the Boxer’, we decided to take a look back at John Lewis’ previous Christmas advert instalments, to examine how they have developed over the years. Previous efforts have taken us to emotional extremes with fantastical storylines, but the emotional narrative appears to be changing, and taking a much more subtle approach.

The Long Wait


John Lewis

The first of John Lewis’ Christmas ads to take us on an emotional journey, this ad borrowed from the traditional cultural notion of Christmas being a time of excess and flipped it on its head. With Morrissey’s lyrics swirling ‘Please, let me get what I want’, the young boy subverted expectations by enthusiastically presenting his parents with his hand-wrapped gift for them, instead of rushing to open his own.  John Lewis refocused Christmas on the idea of giving, and the emotional resonance surrounding that – something they have carried through their subsequent Christmas campaigns.

The Bear And The Hare


John Lewis

A magical fairytale offering, this ad transported us away from reality and showed how Christmas is celebrated by all the creatures of the natural world. The form of this advert shifted to an incredibly high quality and was praised for its cinematic style and feel. However John Lewis were careful not to lose the emotional journey, reminding us that Christmas is for sharing and creating new memories with our nearest and dearest.

The Man On The Moon


John Lewis

Last year’s advert took the idea of an emotional journey to its extreme limit. A Christmas ad with a conscience, the reminder to not forget our loved ones during the festive period was overtly communicated. With many claiming it was the most tear-jerking advert ever, the image of a lonely man on the moon brought home for many people the feeling of abandonment that some people feel at Christmas.

Buster The Boxer


John Lewis

This year’s advert sees John Lewis taking a decidedly different approach. Especially compared to last year, this ad celebrates the joy of Christmas and the happiness that gift giving can bring – even if it is felt by an unintended recipient!  John Lewis is maintaining the narrative of creating an emotional journey, but seem to have realised that that journey doesn’t necessarily have to be a sad one. Playing with humour is new territory for their Christmas campaigns, but considering the year we’ve had, it feels very much welcome.

The Gamification of Romance

7 Nov


In 1967, Love sang “I could be in love with almost everyone” and rather more recently a certain somebody proclaimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. A pit stop survey of the dating landscape, however, is enough to convince anyone that, at least in matters of love, both claims are quite untrue. Yesterday’s dating world, both real and televised, revolved around the heady chemistry-forming triumvirate of personality (Blind Date, First Dates), financial prowess (Millionaire Matchmaker), and relative hotness (Take Me Out). This was the Fairy Godmother (or father) era of romance where somebody convinced you that a mere wave of their love wand would be sufficient to find you the one.

However, of late, the dating world and the programmes created around it have undergone an intriguing metamorphosis. The ‘gamification’ of romance has given way to its ‘(pseudo)scientification’. Recall Naked Attraction, a show that claimed to return to the evolutionary building blocks of attraction with incontrovertible scientific evidence, or rather Freudesque post-hoc rationalisations of attraction, One contestant commented on female genitalia “that’s where I came from, and that’s where I wanna be”.

Married at First Sight takes the scientification trend further with a whole panel of experts including psychologists, anthropologists and even clergymen who undertake a novel social experiment. Their hypothesis? That science can do a better job of finding your one true bae than you can. The potential lovers undergo DNA, personality and attractiveness tests and limbs are measured, irises analysed and finger prints matched in order to whittle down applicants from 1500 to an intriguingly odd, 15.

Online dating platforms also contribute to this trend, E-Harmony describe themselves as the “brains behind the butterflies”, emphasising their 29 Dimension Compatibility Matching System. The brand’s latest advert wittily underlines their own scientific approach while undermining competitors. It features Jenny and her “foodie” boar date and stresses that accurate matching and enjoyable dates require comprehensive analysis and algorithms.

And why are we seeing this shift? It feels somewhat unintuitive that in a so-called peer to peer world where people are eschewing top down communications and privileging the opinions and experiences of their fellow humans, that people are seeking textbook expertise in this way. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that romance, like leaving school, arriving at university, buying your first home is a societal marker, a maturity occasion, and in an era when these traditional sign posts and paths to success are being eroded (increasing university fees, uncertain employment market, generation rent), perhaps people are now seeking an authoritative panacea for love. A facet of life which was once left to chance, to family or to an artful Fairy Godmother figure is becoming increasingly stratified and measured. It will be fascinating to observe how this thirst for rules, this anti laissez-faire tendency, will play out in realms beyond the dating world.

‘Real’ Women

26 Oct


Elegant, decorous, proper, hushed… Traditional notions of what a lady should be with zero relevance to woman today. There is a tense synonymy between the words lady, and woman. They both designate half of the population (or just over) but while one harks back to an era of petticoats, top hats and canes, the other can take on an aggressive tone, ‘that woman’, as if by taking away the cosmetic dab of blush that the word lady implies, there is something questionable, or threatening about being viewed as a woman rather than a lady.

H&M confronts this two-tier system of femininity in its latest ad campaign, erasing our historic definition of ladylike and promoting an exciting, empowering and most importantly relevant one: the new lady is “entertaining, opinionated, off-beat, fearless, bad ass, independent and free-willed”. The video features women; women with natural hair, with abs, without abs, with armpit hair, clothed, in underwear, eating, slumping, tooth-picking, dancing, resting-bitch-facing, imperfect, of different decades, races, sizes and sexual orientations. H&M is subverting and redefining ‘ladylike’ to mirror and celebrate the realness of women today. Pum Lefebure, who features in the ad and is Chief Creative Officer of Design Army, sums up the insight behind the ad, “why do I need to marry someone who can bring home bacon? I can raise my own pig. I can raise a farm. I can create this big, most amazing farm in the world, because I am capable.”

Increasingly, brands are seeing the value in getting behind this trend for real, transparent, non-photoshopped authenticity. Consider Vogue’s The Real Issue, an edition aimed at showcasing a wider range of women, or BodyForm and their recent campaign that disruptively depicts real blood in a category that always tiptoes around menstruation with euphemistic sky-blue goop, or even Uniqlo’s LifeWear collection that emphasises clothes designed with action and movement in mind.

It is telling that these campaigns are still in the minority and retain an edge of taboo, indeed, it is shocking that realness remains so shocking.

Are Brands Becoming More Politicised?

21 Oct

During the referendum we examined how brands were taking a bold stance and publicising which way they would be voting. Now that US election fever is well underway we are noticing more and more brands championing their candidate of choice in humorous and interesting ways. We all know that millennials are searching for a brand that has a worldview they can identify with, and companies are cleverly capturing the zeitgeist in different ways.





Ben and Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen confirmed his support for his fellow Vermont native and candidate for the Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders by creating him his own ice cream flavour. ‘Bernie’s Yearning’ has a thin layer of chocolate at the top (to represent the 1%-ers that Sanders riles against) that can be crushed and incorporated into the mint ice cream below. This did not feel out of the ordinary as Ben and Jerry’s are already known as a brand that is involved in social commentary, with their climate change and equal marriage ice creams.





Gourmet Burger Kitchen have had a more tongue in cheek approach to the US election, bringing out their ‘Vote Rump’ burger – using the taglines ‘Our thickest burger ever’ ‘It’s a bit of an arse’ and ‘Makes any hands look tiny’. Although this is a relatively safe stance to take in the UK, with most Britons bewildered by the popularity of Trump, the humour in the campaign seems to have struck a nerve with burger lovers in the UK.





Some brands have also been dragged into the election cycle buzz unwillingly. Skittles became a focus in the election cycle after Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the now infamous poster comparing a bowl of skittles to Syrian refugees. Skittles were applauded for their restraint as they responded to the furore with a simple statement: ‘Skittles are a candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it is an appropriate analogy’. By making as little fuss as possible, Skittles quickly distanced themselves from Trump’s campaign, and subtly demonstrated which nominee they favoured.





Although we love the humour and entertaining nature of the above campaigns, it is perhaps because this election cycle feels so ridiculous and caricatured that such responses seem normal. With more serious political issues such a stance would be inappropriate. Ben and Jerry’s demonstrated this recently when they came out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Rather than trivialising the issue with a humorous ice cream name, they sensibly put out a lengthy statement to explain their viewpoint on the issue.

We’d love to see some of the brands that have taken a political stance in this election cycle also tackle some of the trickier political and social issues in culture; perhaps Skittles could release a special ‘Love The Rainbow’ pack, with proceeds going to refugee charities?

Maltesers showcase the lighter side of disability

3 Oct

Over the last few weeks we’ve been reflecting on the impact of the Paralympics on brand efforts throughout the games. Channel 4 again spearheaded the coverage of the Paralympics, and this year they encouraged advertisers to reflect diversity in their campaigns, going as far as offering £1 million worth of airtime to the best campaign idea featuring disabled people. Maltesers’  #LookOnTheLightSide was the stand out winner from over 90 entries.

What is it?



Working with the disability charity Scope, Maltesers developed the ad based on the real life experiences of people with disabilities. Borrowing cues of female honesty from programmes like ‘Girls’ and ‘Inside Amy Schumer’, the ad portrays Storme’s character as fully dimensional, with a sexualised life – in contradiction to the controversial portrayal of disability in the recent film ‘Me Before You’. Following direction from Scope, Maltesers say that they were keen to use humour to break social taboos surrounding disability.

Why does it work?



By showing people with disabilities as neither superheroes, nor people to be pitied, Maltesers is pushing culture in a direction which sees disability as normalised. The fact that they cast actors that have real disabilities also lends their campaign authenticity, which brands such as Vogue have recently been criticised for (link to vogue controversy).  Crucially, the ad fits in with their brand message of #LookOnTheLightSide; ensuring that their backing of disability awareness through humour is perceived as genuine.

Taking the idea further?



During their Paralympics coverage, Channel 4 screened a world first ad break that was entirely signed using British Sign Language by deaf actor David Ellington. When the Maltesers advert featuring BSL appeared, David sat back, ate a packet of Maltesers and watched the advert with the viewers at home. The audacity of Maltesers to put out a 30sec TV spot with no audible speech, requiring viewers to read subtitles did not go unnoticed:



Recent statistics show that there are 12 million disabled people in the UK, making up 20% of the population, and that 80% of people feel underrepresented by TV and media. We’d love to see Maltesers not only continuing to show their adverts outside of the Paralympics timeframe, but to work harder to make their adverts accessible to their audience. Providing BSL, subtitles and Audio Description for all of their adverts would be a huge expression of their support for the disabled community in the UK, and would help the general public become more comfortable with disability.

With cash prize incentives removed, only time will tell if brands continue their efforts to portray a more diverse Britain in their adverts.

Is Social Technology Kindling or Killing Creativity?

23 Sep


The launch of iOS10 last week brought with it an updated iMessage that allows users to write in invisible ink, send handwritten notes and create animations. These additions allow for a new level of creative personalisation when it comes to communicating, a trend we have seen emerge more and more across social media.

Whilst previously social media platforms were used largely for documenting lives with sentimental purpose, they are now being used more and more as a way to express a personal sense of creativity. Excelled by the popularity of snapchat and Instagram, the shift has got us wondering whether the filters, emojis and other essentially frivolous tools are actually helping creativity, or limiting us to a rather formulaic form of self-expression.

With a finite number of filter options to choose from, and a limited number of colours to doodle with, every time a user attempts to deliver a personalised piece of content, it is always reminiscent of something that has come before. These limitations, though constraining for personal expression, are ideal for a brand’s pursuit of creating a distinct yet definable character. Brands such as Nike and Starbucks have acted masterfully in utilising visual social media to develop their personalities, and have been rewarded with giant followings as a result.

Just a few days ago self-proclaimed technology devotee Kanye West took to twitter to declare he’s doing away with his smartphone, citing the reason as wanting to ‘have air to create’.

With technology showing no sign of slowing down when it comes to delivering new ways to communicate and develop a personal identity, we too wonder whether these tools and developments will be of benefit to creativity. Or will they in fact hinder and stand in the way of people making something more rich, creative and nuanced.

Interesting Things About… Personalised Subscription Boxes

16 Sep

We’ve seen a new wave of subscription boxes emerge which are taking personalisation to a whole new level. Whilst beauty boxes have been widely customisable for a while now, and have become quite overdone, these new subscriptions are understanding our needs in a much more intimate and closely targeted way. It feels like a massive leap into a world where personalised subscription boxes are totally in sync with our minds and bodies, meaning that we are finally getting a truly personalised service.  Here are 3 of our favourites:


Ms Flow



Taking intimacy with its customers to the extreme, Ms Flow describe themselves as a ‘luxury period and wellbeing subscription service’. Customers are able to choose between light, regular and heavy flow packages and can even select their preferred sanitary towel or tampon brand. By ‘syncing up’ their delivery dates with recipients’ cycle, Ms Flow are able to offer a truly unique and personalised service.

The Book Drop



Targeting the improvement of our minds, The Book Drop allow its customers to select from different genres and then curates a collection of books based on their choices. By getting to know your mind over time, this service suggests a range of books to suit your mind and stretch your thinking. By allowing recipients to switch boxes from month to month, they enable a more personalised approach.

Club W



Understanding wine and becoming a true ‘oenophile’ can be a difficult process, Club W decrypt this by offering a tailored wine subscription service. Customers answer specific questions in order for Club W to truly understand their palate profile. Their app truly learns your palate to deliver a service that combines the expertise of their wine knowledge with their customers’ personal tastes.


Why this is interesting… 

These subscription boxes feel much more in tune with the people they serve, and achieve a much more intelligent method of personalisation. Being able to totally understand their mind and body means a much more tailored service can be provided.  As subscriptions continue to try and engage with more parts of peoples’ lives, we wonder what areas they will try and tackle next. We can imagine the likes of Hello Fresh combining with Fitbit to form HelloBit– a service which provides people with calorie counted meals based on their food intake and the amount of calories they have burnt that day.