Campaign Trail is our look at some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
Some brands dropped whatever inhibitions they might have had when it comes to bold marketing this week, with a frozen food maker taking to Twitter for a lengthy, honest and impassioned catalog of society's modern woes and a Swedish retailer using a truly unorthodox approach to get drugs off the streets. On the lighter side, Ryan Reynolds and Sir Richard Branson hammed it up:
Steak-umm's woke Twitter rant grabs headlines — and resonates with consumers
The rundown: Twitter, while not quite the social media juggernaut it once was, is still valued by brands as a channel to be more direct and casual with fans. Quaker Maid Meats subsidiary Steak-umm, which is most known for producing thinly sliced steaks for the frozen food aisle, took that idea to an extreme this week in a lengthy tweet rant dripping with existential dread that has quickly gone viral and grabbed media headlines.
Sharing a string of candid posts that mirror the type usually written by a flustered employee looking to get back at a company — though the account has clarified it was *definitely* not "hacked" — Steak-umm sounded off on a variety of issues impacting young Americans today, including crushing student loan debt, the alienating effects of the internet and social media and the destruction of authentic community connection.
"[W]hy are so many young people flocking to brands on social media for love, guidance, and attention?" the thread starts. "I'll tell you why. they're isolated from real communities, working service jobs they hate while barely making ends meat, and are living w/ unchecked personal/mental health problems[.]"
The entire wild thread is available to read and get upset about below:
why are so many young people flocking to brands on social media for love, guidance, and attention? I'll tell you why. they're isolated from real communities, working service jobs they hate while barely making ends meat, and are living w/ unchecked personal/mental health problems— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) September 26, 2018
The results: It's no secret that brands have recently grown more brash on social media and on Twitter, in particular, as they look for low-cost ways to drum up conversations online. The fast-food chain Wendy's has played a large role in driving this trend, actively taunting competitors like McDonald's and even consumers critical of its brand in ways that would feel out of place in more formal settings.
However, the great Steak-umm rant of 2018, which has racked up roughly 34,000 favorites and 9,500 retweets at press time, along with coverage in publications like the A.V. Club and Uproxx, is candid in a manner corporations almost never get, and is almost completely unrelated to Steak-umm's product. That leads to the cynic's question, which is what is the marketing objective here?
For one thing, the weighty subject matter of the posts has led some people to probe if Steak-umm is actively doing anything to combat the issues it is criticizing. The brand has, in turn, touted its list of charitable initiatives, including by linking to a merch store where 100% of the proceeds benefit Meals on Wheels. But beyond that, the honesty of the discussion has created resonance with followers, especially since it comes from such an unusual source.
"[A] spot on and impactful thread highlighting the struggles of life for many young people from… *checks notes* ...steak ummm?" wrote Twitter user EricaJoy (@EricaJoy).
As for the brand itself, it doesn't appear to harbor any illusions about being a political force, though it does appreciate being able to spark some online discussion:
having a rant connect with so many people is cool, yet tomorrow the twitterverse will move on. newer weird news will come up and most of us will soon forget this day entirely. and that’s ok. find some joy where you can and keep the sizzle inside you strong— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) September 27, 2018
Björn Borg trades drugs for sportswear
The rundown: Swedish fashion brand Björn Borg opened a one-of-a-kind pop-up shop in Amsterdam, allowing customers to trade street drugs for limited-edition sportswear. The attention-grabbing pop-up was part of the brand's "Chase the Exerhighs" campaign, which maintains that the effects of exercise — the activation of encannabinoids, endorphins, dopamine and serotonin in the brain — resemble those of drug use.
"I believe anyone can agree with us that exercise is better than drugs! It’s amazing how the brain reacts to exercise and how it can equal joy and euphoria at the same time," Jonas Lindberg Nyvang, marketing director at Björn Borg, said in a statement. "In fact, training releases such an amount of stimulating substances in your brain that it could be illegal in some countries."
The brand filmed a brief film about the surprised reactions consumers had at the pop-up which it posted on YouTube, along with several psychedelic videos — including one that morphs a scientist's head as he discusses the science behind the campaign.
The results: Pop-up shops and experiential events provide an excellent way for brands to create buzz among consumers, which is often magnified by social media. While it's unclear how many people took Björn Borg up on their offer, the edginess of the "drugs for clothes" pitch certainly helped spread the word on social media.
Referencing illegal drugs in a campaign is unorthodox and risky, but because Björn Borg is rejecting drugs in favor of brand-appropriate exercise, the message is positive without being preachy. At a time when some critics are calling out pop-up experiences for merely offering the "facsimile of traditional pleasures," Björn Borg's shop offers a unique way to riff on the marketing trend without getting bogged down in its superficial negatives.
Ryan Reynolds, Richard Branson gin deal takes off
The rundown: Actor Ryan Reynolds is taking his Aviation American Gin to the skies with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline, serving the spirit on flights and at Virgin Atlantic clubhouses. The duo announced the new partnership on Tuesday in a cheeky video where Reynolds spews a stream of corporate jargon — scope, scale and ROI — which makes Branson visibly uncomfortable. Somewhere along the way, the "Deadpool" star confuses their partnership with a full-on merger, and the actor announces the new name for the supposed combined company: AviaVirgination.
"I think it's fair to say, Sir Richard, we're making corporate history," the actor says, before he's reminded that the deal is simply to offer the gin to Virgin Atlantic travelers.
To kick off the deal, a "selection of lucky passengers" who fly on Virgin Atlantic on Sept. 30 will win a "special mixology experience hosted by bartenders from some of the world’s best bars," according to a press release. The companies will also bring their partnership to this year’s London Cocktail Week in October, and the duo will appear in co-branded digital content this fall.
The results: The video, which was originally shared on the airline's social media platforms on Tuesday, has so far received mostly positive reviews. At press time, it had reeled in more than 1.5 million views across YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
While the partnership itself doesn't appear to encompass much more than offering Aviation Gin on Virgin Atlantic flights, the lighthearted spt appears to be a solid way to drum up excitement around the announcement. Beyond the two companies posting the video on social media, both Branson and Reynolds also shared the videos on their accounts of a combined 24.3 million followers, which resulted in GIFs from the video and back-and-forth banter of the men poking fun at each other.
The upcoming tasting experiences will also likely generate some buzz around both the gin and the airline, as passengers and Cocktail Week attendees can sample the spirit and share their experience with friends through word of mouth.