Thursday Thinky: Stirring, Preservatives & Design

Welcome to the last Thursday of February!

We’ve already been two months into 2020 so to grasp with that reality, this week’s Thinky will showcase campaigns that went all in to induce a strong reaction or that walked back their past dares to play it safer this time around.

Burger King went all the way when they decided to show the world what an aged Whopper looks like with no preservatives. After last year’s backlash, Gillette went the opposite direction with a powerful but polished new campaign. And then, as usual, we are wrapping things up with many instances of how design can help brand tackle specific issues.

See you in March!


Brands That Caught Our Eye 


Gillette – Back in the “toxic masculinity” convo again  (Muse by Clio)

This definitely feels less controversial than “The Best Men Can Be” spot that outraged the internet last Jan. It’s narrated by, and stars, a British soccer player who’s been faced with racist abuse himself, which right off the bat, sets this up to create a much more authentic connection. However, not knowing who this player is, I do feel like some of the impact was lost on me, so I would love to know if any soccer fans had a different experience (side note: it’s playing globally, with the exception of North America, which makes sense).


The right vs. wrong scenarios in the spot are far more subtle than in previous Gillette attempts — “you don’t have to raise your fists to beat your enemies” just shows a player calmly walking away from an on-field brawl. It does become a little heavy-handed towards the end when it gets into anthemic narrative: “show them…we stand shoulder to shoulder against all forms of prejudice.” And while I know this spot is aimed at the masculinity conversation, I do wish there were women included. If “we stand shoulder to shoulder,” doesn’t that mean ALL of us, not just men? That’s probably nitpicky, as overall, this spot is nice. It’s not super powerful, but it’s also (at least to me) not offensive. It feels like Gillette is staying on message, but playing it safe, after last year’s backlash.


Thinky Grade: B-



Burger King – Proving that it’s removing preservatives from its food by showing that yes, Whoppers will grow mold (Instagram)

I personally love this. It’s 100% show vs tell. There’s been a backlash in the food industry about preservatives in food, even in the fast food sector, and fanned by what the article calls:


“….folklore that McDonald’s hamburgers don’t decompose. Last year, a man in Iceland even created a museum-style exhibit showing an uneaten 10-year-old burger and fries from the Golden Arches that didn’t look worse for wear, a full decade after purchase. Notably, there was no mold on the food whatsoever.”


So naturally, Burger King needed to prove that its food doesn’t follow the same rules as its competitors. It’s a bold move, showing anything by perfectly art directed meat and condiments. But I’ll tell you what — the beauty of the timelapse, and mental impression of seeing that mold overtake the burger, is something you’re not going to soon forget. They took a risk in the fact that it may turn some people off to their brand entirely, simply associating mold = Whopper and never going back. But the bigger impression is that BK is not afraid to show it’s food getting moldy, because that’s what REAL FOOD should do. (No one is claiming it’s healthy, just preservative-free.) This took guts. They get my applause. And they’ll probably get some award nods, too.


Thinky Grade: A+



Tackling Issues via Design


Children’s Health – Kids finally get to press all the buttons in this Children’s Health ‘Get Well-evator’ (Campaign Live)

How can you see this and not smile ear-to-ear? Children’s Health states its mission as “to make life better for children.” In a practical sense, that comes from live-saving treatments, education, and advocacy. But in an emotional sense? That can come from anywhere…and most magically, from making it possible to bring their dreams, fantasies, and imaginations to life during what’s likely one of the most fearful and uncertain situations a kid could ever imagine. The idea is so stupidly simple (all of the best ones are), based on the insight that every parent knows all too well: kids love pressing elevator buttons. So why not give them ALL. THE. BUTTONS?


By doing something whimsical and unexpected, they’re making a massive difference for these kids, giving them a few moments of happiness on the way to or from something that can be a little bit scary. Oh, and the exposure and publicity from the experience (well done on the case study) probably won’t hurt their reputation, awareness, or fundraising efforts. It shows such a willingness to think outside the box


Thinky Grade: A+



A creative director who struggled with addiction creates an incredible project/collection/tribute to people lost to chemical addiction (Creative Review)

This is deep, complex, and multi-layered. It’s an intricately woven exploration of poetry, photography, video, narrative, and social media, exploring the outside world’s impact on our internal struggles, and both the literal and figurative (chemical) chains that have taken some of our most prolific talent from us too soon. There’s a story, line, or verse in here that has the potential to connect with everyone, and by bringing it to life in such a variety of mediums and approaches, it feels like the creator is inviting us all in to wander and discover whatever resonates most.


Thinky Grade: A



New Visual Identities


COP 26 – A new visual identity for the COP26 Climate Change Conference aims to make it ‘everyone’s problem’(Creative Review)

The premise here is that climate change knows no borders — but visualizations of our world, in the most concrete sense, are always depicted WITH borders — of states, countries, continents, and oceans. So branding agency Johnson Banks wanted to show what the world would look like as one modern fluid entity, where we all share the same struggles and challenges, and where the responsibility falls on all of us collectively to solve. They used bold but slightly unexpected colors, clean typography, and straightforward messaging throughout the design system, which feels strong and cohesive, and also optimistic


While the design here is accessible, I’m not sure how well it accomplishes the mission of making climate change personally compelling. Perhaps it’s more effective with the contingency attending the UN summit than the somewhat apathetic or over-fatigued general public? It’s definitely a GIANT LEAP from where some previous identities landed. 


Thinky Grade: B-



Autism Speaks – Unveiling new campaign, and identity, for its 15th birthday (Campaign Live)

I wanted…really wanted…to like this. Autism Speaks has made incredible progress in not only normalizing the conversation around autism, but in fostering more understanding, research, and acceptance of those on all ends of the spectrum. Which I think is why this work disappoints me even more than it would for another org.


The new brand/visual identity is more of an evolution than a redesign (you can read and watch more about it here). And yes, in that context, it is an improvement. But it feels so…meh. There’s no empowerment or inspiration coming from it. The spectrum of colors is a nice touch to allude to the spectrum of abilities, and the slightly more balanced/refined puzzle piece helps give it more credibility. But overall it just fails to connect. I realize that I am speaking as someone outside of the autism community, and that the puzzle piece itself may hold much greater resonance and relevance to those who are involved. So maybe that’s OK that it doesn’t hit home with me. Maybe it’s not supposed to.


Thinky Grade: C+



There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to effectiveness and measurement…but that’s a post for another day. Thanks for reading today’s Thinky. See you next week!

PS: If any of the above made your wheels spin, we’d love to hear your thoughts — get in touch with us!

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