Thursday, July 30, 2009

Heavy showers moving in from the web: the Summer of Sandtex

Every so often the (cliché alert, gentle readers!) green shoots of hope manage to poke me in the eye and I cry a little tear for the audacity of hope in this time of such not hope at all. Such a story as this following one is one such.

I've done my share of whingeing here about the slow-to-glacial uptake of digital engagement by Adland. Some part of my D&A just refuses to stop caring about it. And now as the chill gloom of deep August settles on us all and I sit here amidst the early BulMag apple cider harvest, suffused about the cheeks with a faux-retro Kellogg's Country Store vibe, I look back over the short summer of Dublin adland and ask myself what has happened in digital terms, quite apart from all the killings, maimings, torturings, razors taken to budgets and shivs dug into the unsuspecting necks of junior AEs?

But mostly I look back and wonder, as I'm sure we all do: what the fuck was this all about?

I'd seen the zany outdoor stuff and like any sane person I wondered what's Gillian Bowler at now, lads? Then I copped the Sandtex logo and almost at once I elected to forego my sixth annual continental fortnight just so that I could get to the bottom of this deliciously apposite enigma. Because whatever it looks like, it sure as shitty weather doesn't look like an ad for exterior masonry paint. Right?

Er, wrong. Wrong to the tune of 10,307 Facebook fans atcherly. It was a big old gotcha! and I'm sheepishly admitting that I completely missed the viral action that was going on. The entire campaign pretty much lived online - and is still doing so. A blog was set up linking to the Twitter and Facebook page, run by The Sandtex Insider, a national man (?) of mystery known only by the squelching of his wellies, who's been writing (fuckin' incessantly, and quite appropriately) about the weather.

That one thing that unites all pasty-arsed Irish men and women from April to October. The poxy weather. That's how big the creative idea was. It blotted out the sky, maan. So big that you wouldn't even see it in all its pissy glory, but it was that pissy idea that gets you wet all the same.

The campaign cleverly latched on to it because it's something that is just part and parcel of our sodden summers. The blog is frankly downright dull on the old colour spectrum (Irony, right lads? That's irony, yeah?) it did no more than it needed to for engagement on visitors' terms, it gently nudged the Sandtex message here and there and it linked to the other sites. (That doesn't make it viral per se, btw. People passing it along decide if it's viral.) It also just hit the right amount of cultural buttons to make it uniquely Irish. Not to be underestimated, that one. Where else would this reader submission be considered funny, exactly? But right here in Ireland, in this medium, it's a fuckin' riot. (No offence, baby J.)

So yet again, the big idea proves to be a little one. I'm pleased really, because I've had to hang on to the brogans of more than one ad creative as they disappeared up their own jacksie in search of the high art concept. Occasionally they were me. But that's not always what interests punters. The most redeemed giveaway on the blog? Child of Prague statuettes. I kid you not. (Free pint of Sledgehammer not included, btw.)

I'm also pleased that I completely missed it for weeks. I could cite all sorts of reasons for this, but the ultimate why is that the Irish online community is waay too big for anyone to keep a comprehensive eye on. I should've seen this one, professionally speaking, but the fact that it slipped past while I was probably nosing around in someone else's blog means a wider, deeper pool of engagement, where all sorts of tricks will need to be deployed, is happening.

But what real learnings?

Your creative idea can live longer and more impactfully online if you think about it that way from the start. This campaign set out with a two week budget for some posters, bus sides, weather sponsorship on radio and hope in its heart. It's knocked an entire season out of what was to be, at best, a month and a half of activity.
Campaigns like this are few in Ireland just yet, but they shouldn't necessarily be seen as an immediate sales booster. They can do that, no doubt, but certainly to me they look more likely to assist brands to slide into that area beloved by late eighties admen: the hearts and minds of consumers, ladies and gentlemen.
So don't expect immediate sales spikes unless you are pushing a specific promo within your engagement. And as timing would have it, that's exactly what the Sandtex blog is doing with today's post. I'd love to hear how it does. Who knows, we might get an inkling when the numbers are in. What's clear already is that Facebook has been a huge success, with over 10k fans and massive engagement. Second only to Guinness as regards official fan pages, they say. I'm too lazy to check it out. There have been around 40,000 page views. The 'pointless' outdoor alone was doing a good job of searing Sandtex onto my retinas anyway, but add the engagement to it and suddenly it's got a very sharp point indeed. Even if I did miss it initially.

In short, campaigns like this one are major causes for optimism, imho. New media being tackled appropriately and all that. There's another wave that needs to come right behind it, bringing people with even less 'traditional' advertising nous with it: the application developers. The cat can be skinned more ways than ever. But first let's get to grips with the ones that people are becoming increasingly familiar with. And meantime I'm off to give a lick of paint to the castle ramparts, while there's a gap in the August moisture.

Update: Mea culpa for wittering on about an integrated campaign and forgetting to name other key integrationists. Alongside Bloom on this one are Radical and Pembroke Communications. Nicely executed work from all, and apparently there's more to come.


  1. Great post Nick - I agree completely and would also have to admit that that one completely snook up on me. When? How? Why? I find myself asking all the same questions, but hat tipping it at the same time. Nice work.

  2. Great post Nick... I haven't seen much around the campaign but after reading this I have investigated it more and am very impressed..

    They have done a lot of offline work also which now I am getting a lot more than before..

    Great post and a excellent campaign and hopefully some work like this will get recognised for what it is..

  3. Thank you gents. There's more going on here than I've mentioned too, and hopefully I'll get to do an update on this one in a couple of weeks.