Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
Perfume advertisements are traditionally pretty formulaic: celebrities in lavish attire, a sleek bottle and a breathy voiceover selling you on a decadent lifestyle in lieu of the actual scent.
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter parodies the sensual style of luxury perfume ads in a new social-first campaign that plays on the product's unique spray bottle packaging. Made with agency Glow, a 40-second ad spotlights a fake scent called "Pas de Beurre," which roughly translates to "no butter" in French. The spot pairs the spray with floating kebobs, corn cobs and salmon, while narrators whisper about the faux scent's "seductive," "spritzy" and "savory" qualities before derailing into banter over whether noses have taste buds.
The "#NotButterSummer" campaign marks a return to the brand's comedic roots, playing on the internet meme of "hot girl summer" and looking to drive interest in the butter alternative during peak grilling season. Influencer partnerships, an immersive lens and a contest around a hot tub decorated as a butter container round out the campaign, which in two weeks doubled the brand's Instagram followers.
"I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray, it's this spritzer that does remind you of perfume, and there's something funny about treating it that way," said Paula Ersly, Glow's director of social and digital strategy. "It's the perfect 'perfume' for your grill and for your food, so [the ad] was driven out of the product itself and what makes the product so unique in a way that's also just funny."
Bringing social to the forefront
The campaign launched around the Fourth of July weekend on social and digital channels and will extend through August, when the brand will deliver a Grill & Chill prize pack — featuring a hot tub designed to look like a butter container — to one contest winner. Runners-up will receive a branded cooler and apron as well as a year's supply of the spray product.
Supporting the contest and overall campaign are partnerships with several health and cooking influencers and faux perfume posters shared to the butter brand's social media accounts. Paid placements on social platforms like Instagram round out the effort, directing audiences to play with an augmented reality (AR) lens that virtually transforms Instagram users into a butter-spritzed kabob, corn cob or salmon slab. Tying the campaign elements together, the hashtag #NotButterSummer serves as a digital hub of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter content while reinforcing the effort's comedic messaging.
The new summer promotion marks a shift in the plant-based brand's marketing approach toward prioritizing social media as a key part to the campaign, instead of treating it as an afterthought, according to Ersly.
"We know that social media marketing is such a place where comedy and engagement are king. You look at the brands that are doing really well on social media, and they're often very playful. Fans want to interact with brands at a level that's deeper than just being sold a product," she said.
Pairing a social-first strategy with comedic creative "simply felt right" to Ersly and the Glow team, which first signed on as one of the brand's agencies in January.
"The name itself, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, is so ridiculous and funny and evocative," she said. "One of our big challenges for the year was also to revamp [its] social media and make it feel very fresh, very now. Going mobile-first was a very natural part of that."
Reigniting comedic levity
Though pushing social media to the forefront of a campaign is new for the brand, "#NotButterSummer" continues the margarine maker's history of imbuing satire into its advertising. For years, its marketing was mostly known for its TV commercials starring Italian model Fabio Lanzoni, who narrated suspenseful romance tales in ads in the 1990s. In one 1996 spot, he burst free from a butter sculpture of himself, and returned in a 2016 video printing his face on a slice of toast.
Now, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter is resurfacing that same comedic levity with a fresh take on marketing — sans Fabio — by lampooning romantic perfume ads.
"This is, I think, [the brand's] first campaign in recent years that's really social-first, where we crafted everything mobile-first," Ersly said. "The hero video itself was designed to be something that's very feed-friendly and it can work across multiple formats, whether you see it on Instagram, Twitter or wherever."
The renewed approach began at the top of 2021, when Glow came on to redefine the brand's voice and tone to match a younger audience on their preferred platforms. A campaign slated for next winter will build on this work, rebooting an undisclosed TV commercial that this time will branch into social media and another dose of comedic flair, according to Ersly.
"We are pushing [the brand's] internal teams to recognize that you can have campaigns that are hinged in social," Ersly said. "They're starting to really think cohesively about all of their channels and how stuff can work across multiple channels. I think this was a moment where we proved the weight social media can have for a brand."