How to have a birthday (clue: the answer’s not in your logo)


Dust down your shell suit and dance atop your Lack table – it’s time to party like it’s 1999.

When you have a big birthday, what’s the best way to celebrate? If you’re like most retailers, you slap the year of your birth underneath your logo and do an advertising campaign. If you’re Ikea, you use the opportunity for one big party and invite the public along.

Ikea’s recent House Party – a takeover of a four storey town house in London, played homage to the brand’s 30 year’s presence in the UK, and was free for the public to enter for one week. A brilliant hand, played at just the right time as part of their overall brand strategy.

Each floor was cleverly decked out as a living room throwback to past decades reflecting our changing tastes in interiors. Guests could wander around the whole house, much like an exhibition, taking a trip down memory lane with Billy Book cases, Twister and Connect 4 in the 80s, Britpop and minimalist sofas in the 90s and shiny acrylic units and clashing walls in the 00s. Hammy actors made the experience even more fun (and even more bonkers). By contrast, the top floor looked to the future, inviting people to consider how they might create homes that help us make better use of the world’s dwindling resources. Come night, the house turned into an actual house party, complete with Jamiroquai playlist and Hooch at the bar.


Experiential marketing is nothing new, but has been gaining traction over the last few years as traditional advertising fails to hit the mark. But what was interesting here, is that while the house was stacked full of Ikea product, there was absolutely no emphasis on buying anything. In fact, you couldn’t even pick up a catalogue (although you could check out 30 years of catalogue covers made into wallpaper – a nice touch). Ikea knows you can’t make money directly from experiential. It’s not the place for transactions. Instead, the whole event was a cleverly executed gold standard in brand awareness, geared towards putting Ikea at the forefront of consumer’s minds, both for their ‘design classics’ which continue to endure, and to cement their reputation as one of the most forward thinking, innovative and ethically minded brands. After all, if a brand stirs positive emotions with consumers, they’re more likely to have a positive perception overall.

Ikea has recognised that as people aren’t responding to traditional advertising, they need another way to reach the ever-apathetic, attention-of-a-gnat consumer. Something with talkability. And the great thing about experiential is it’s hugely shareable. Even if people didn’t visit the house, they probably consumed it via social media – meaning Ikea probably reached thousands, possibly millions, more people than they might have otherwise.

So if you’re about to have a birthday soon, think twice about that logo tweak and take a leaf from Ikea. Prawn vol-au-vents optional.


Sean Dwyer

Can graphic design save your life?


This month, a couple of the Whippets headed to The Wellcome Collection in central London to have a look at their exhibition ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?’ Turns out it can. But it’s also quite capable of killing you too. From tiny stamps to national advertising campaigns and pill packaging that many of us see everyday, it was a chance to reflect on the impact and importance graphic design has in our lives. The show begins with the controversial topic of smoking. Over the years, creatives had encouraged people to buy tobacco as much as they’d tried to sway them to kick the habit. Charles Saatchi’s ingenious Silk Cut campaign in response to the constraints on tobacco advertising (which prohibited naming brands in the early 1990s) beautifully depicted ‘Silk Cut’ with purple silk being slashed and cut in various surreal ways. They offered rewards to those who could decipher the coded message, and Silk Cut sales soared.

On the other end of the spectrum, we saw how market research agency GfK set out to find the ugliest colour possible, subconsciously repulsing consumers by wrapping packets of tobacco with the chosen colour. They used the sluggish brown Pantone 448A called ‘opaque couché’ deemed the ugliest colour in the world, and that’s what you see on packets of cigarettes and tobacco today. An Australian government report estimated that the number of smokers fell by more than 100,000 after the sickly-brown colour was implemented onto packets. Quite an amazing statistic for a colour swap and really reaffirms the impact of graphic design.


The section on hospitals housed a fascinating project by design agency PearsonLloyd, who aimed to reduce violence caused by frustration in A&E due to unexplained delays. Designers created clear information panels and fixed them to walls in appropriate departments so that visitors had a much better understanding of what the process was within A&E, and where they were within it. Violence incidents fell by 50% after a year of implementation. An incredible statistic, and an important one when saving lives.

Other themes that came through in the exhibition included the importance of graphic design when transcending language barriers, which was especially prevalent in the packaging of drugs, where semiotics especially come into play. And how design has really shaped and documented controversial health topics over time – like sex, drug use and smoking, as well as provoking and empowering people to take action, particularly seen in health charity sector.

All in all, a fascinating exhibition in a beautiful space that reminded us how powerful and important design is within every aspect of our lives – and importantly keeping us alive.


Sean Dwyer

Whoop! 4 award noms for us!


We’re super excited to be nominated for four (count ‘em) Drum Network awards! We’re up for Retail Campaign/Strategy of the Year, Food & Drink Campaign/Strategy of the Year and B2C Campaign/Strategy of the Year, all for our work on Iceland’s new store concept…. plus the big one, Agency of the Year for Design/Brand Consulting. All things crossed for 28 November!


Sean Dwyer

Who let the dogs (and cats) out?

We’re thrilled to see our new outdoor campaign for animal charity Mayhew go live this week across London. It’s the charity’s first ever campaign,  showcasing their new branding since changing their name to Mayhew earlier this year to reach a wider audience and better reflect the work they do in the community. Our four digital ads, seen in rotation across 35 sites in London this October and November, bring a bold, colourful look and feel to communicate their key services with a championing copyline and engaging cut-out photography. Pawsome.



Sean Dwyer

The art of writing a headline? Let’s leave it to the robots…

Copy Cabana Newsletter Image - 892px - 2

Last week we had an excellent day out by the seaside. Not so much fish, chips and deckchairs, but word-nerds and er, Hawaiian shirts. This was the annual gathering of copywriters at the pun-tastically named ‘Copy Cabana’, run by the brilliant Andy Maslen, Vikki Ross and Matt Desmier. Thirteen speakers, a pad thai eaten precariously while trying to shake hands with hundreds of like-minded people and a LOT of cake later, these are a few highlights…

Headline 101

Among the glittering line up of speakers was the esteemed Steve Harrison, winner of more Cannes Lions in his discipline than any other creative director in the world no less, who reminded everyone not to slip into laziness when it comes to writing headlines. The best example? ‘The Art of [insert name, product, business here]’. You wouldn’t believe how many ‘things’ can become an art, if we copywriters are to be believed. A slide share of around 50 examples had the audience in stitches, with everything from ‘The Art of tailoring’ to ‘The Art of Coffee’ to the ‘Art of the Sublime’ to the ‘The Art of Guttering’ (I kid you not though I question the client that briefed ‘make our guttering artful’). The point being, Steve said, that lines like this may make the client feel good but they do nothing to solve the customer’s lifestyle problem, only the client’s marketing problem. Headlines which arouse curiosity, that are newsworthy, and that answer the customer’s question ‘What’s in it for me?’ are where it’s at. Artful advice indeed.

The march of the bots

Elsewhere, Glenn Sturgess and Peter Stephen of OgilvieOne Business scared us slightly (before making it okay again) about the rise of the copybots coming to steal our jobs – which is absolutely going to happen. AI is rapidly advancing to the ‘point of singularity’ where machines become conscious, but until then, it’s pretty likely that in the next 15-20 years, robots will very easily be formulating the perfect headline to drive better traffic (I’ll help you out here copybots, it’s not ‘The Art of’). However, all will be well for humans, since we possess such things as common sense, empathy, creativity and context. We can dream, robots can’t, and all this means we can work with the robots to develop compelling copy that appeals to the human emotions, leaving the bots to do the slightly drier, data driven work.

Is your writing sexist?

That was the question posed by Elle Graham-Dixon of BBH who got us all questioning our ingrained prejudices with this riddle:

“A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate – that boy is my son!’ Explain.”

Got it? If you guessed the surgeon is a woman, nice one. But don’t worry if you didn’t, this is a piece full of masculine words, leading most of us to think the boy has two dads at best, or subconsciously, to be completely stumped since we simply still don’t think of women as surgeons. A few feminine tweaks to the piece and studies show we’d all guess differently. It shows that diversity is as much in the hands of a writer as it is in the HR department.

That’s a snippet of just three of the brilliant and thought-provoking talks given. We were also treated to the Top 10 tone of voice types by the hilarious Nick Parker; got the inside scoop on copywriting for Ben and Jerry’s from Kerry Thorpe; heard poetry in motion from the inimitable Rishi Dastida and words of wine wisdom from Joe Fattorini and somewhat randomly, met organiser Andy Maslen’s window cleaner, who – turns out – is turning his hand to copywriting, and pretty nifty he is too! Phew! We’ll be back next year…


Sean Dwyer

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