McDonald’s, Unilever and Virgin Trains: 5 things that mattered this week and why

McDonald’s gets in hot water for an ‘insensitive’ ad and Unilever toasts more growth for its sustainable brands.

McDonald’s follows Pepsi’s lead to become the latest tone-deaf brand

The latest brand looking to dethrone Pepsi as tone-deaf champion appears to be McDonald’s, with the fast food giant landing itself in hot water this week.

Using death to sell a Filet-O-Fish was always going to be a bit of an ask and – following more than 100 complaints to the ASA – McDonald’s was forced to remove the controversial TV ad from all of its media channels.

The ad appeared designed to create “awwwws” from its audience, with a young lad realising he and his dead father shared a love for the fishy snack. However, all it really created was questions such as: “How did this get signed off by an ad agency?”

In a statement, a McDonald’s spokesman said: “It was never our intention to cause any upset. We will also review our creative process to ensure this situation never occurs again.”

It’s only May and with Pepsi and McDonald’s both already landing in hot water, I’ve got a feeling the industry might be a bit cautious about embracing sensitive issues over the coming months.

Virgin Trains launches a startup accelerator that’s actually interesting

Virgin isn’t the first brand to launch a startup accelerator and we’re sure it won’t be the last. But its Platform X programme matters because it’s aiming to fix something that irritates just about everybody: train delays.

From now until 28 May, Virgin Trains and Virgin’s StartUp division are seeking out innovative startups to help improve its rail service and wider brand perception.

In an honest interview, we were glad Virgin Trains’s sales and marketing director Danny Gonzalez didn’t utter the cliche “We’re looking to find the next Uber.” Instead, he revealed: “There’s smart opportunities to use technology to make a big difference in situations that typically annoy train passengers and aim to make sure they aren’t getting pissed off.”

TV screens on the back of seats? A cocktail lounge? A ticket guard that does magic tricks? Watch this space.

Lynx persists with serious positioning, but should it?

Lynx, the Unilever-owned deodorant brand that once prided itself on embracing lad culture, is showing how far it has moved on by once again tackling more serious men’s issues.

Its latest campaign, #isitokforguys, encourages men to rid themselves of cultural pressures and is a Google search-driven campaign that reveals how guys are asking the questions they can’t face asking out loud, such as ‘Is it ok for guys to wear pink?’ and ‘Is it ok for guys to experiment with other guys?’.

However, Rik Strubel, global vice president at Lynx, admitted it is looking to find more of a balance between serious and fun. “There are certain things that we should be serious about, and then others where we can have some fun – and we are trying to do both of those.”

But should a deodorant brand really be exploring men’s mental health issues? Strubel counters: “Young guys are demanding that we not only sell products, but that we also do something for them.”

Unilever’s sustainable brands continue to drive overall sales

Even if Unilever’s Lynx strategy is surprising, the success of its sustainable brands strategy is starting to become unquestionable.

This week, the FMCG giant revealed that its ‘Sustainable Living’ brands were growing more than 50% faster than the rest of the business and accounted for 60% of sales growth in 2016.

This matters because these figures have accelerated from 2015, when they accounted for 46% of growth and were growing 30% faster. They appear to justify the notion that consumers are prepared to pay more for brands that contribute to positive social change.

Unilever says brands including Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s are leading the way and achieving “above average growth”, with high single- and double-digit sales over the past six years.

Perhaps a brand designed to prevent body odour going all serious is solid thinking after all?

Is the need for ‘wider skills’ the reason agency talent keeps moving client-side?

The time are changing. According to a new report by executive search firm Grace Blue, almost 40% of senior-level marketing talent has a background agency side, up from nearer 25% a few years ago.

And the new reality, according to Ian Priest, Grace Blue’s global CEO, is that marketers who have only ever worked client-side simply don’t have a  wide-enough skill-set.

He explains: “People are increasingly migrating across traditional lines and clients are wanting wider skills. As they in-house agency services, brands are bringing in more skills to make sure they own the whole customer journey.”

It seems being a marketer loyal to a specific sector might not be as attractive as it once was.



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