The Poundland guide to creating a storm in a teacup with a £25.53 budget

The 2018 Poundland social ,media Christmas campaign

Poundland is readying a sequel to its controversial X-rated social media Christmas campaign from 2017 - an effort that was defined by a post of an elf teabagging a female doll.

The brand’s festive mascot, dubbed Elfie the Elf, drew a mixed reaction last year. The Poke joked that it was delivered by a team intoxicated on eggnog. Other media titles questioned if it was if it was "sexist" and forced its marketing director to address complaints that the content was rife with "outdated misogyny".

But, fuelled by both fans and critics, Poundland achieved unprecedented engagement during the competitive festive period and accumulated over 40,000 new social followers during the month-long campaign, which cost a grand total of just £25.53.

It’s now tripled the budget for Elfie's 2018 sequel. But will it be upping the controversy? The Drum catches up with its team of marketers on the eve of its launch.

The Brief

Rhian Lindsay, marketing coordinator at Poundland, said was originally tasked with spreading "fun and Christmas cheer" with only a shoe-string budget.

Poundland delivered the campaign using the Elves Behavin' Badly doll range which it sold more than two million dolls in 2018 to parents looking to entertain their kids by setting it up around their homes in a new position everyday in the lead up to Christmas.

Capturing the nationwide interest in these dolls, Poundland decided to use them to promote in-store discounts each day in December, but upped the ante by posing Elfie in a series of lewd positions. For example, one posed an elf in front a windscreen illustration of nipples and the caption “Oh Elf, we know it’s nippy outside but not that kind of nippy".

Lindsay explained: "We're traditional, simple marketers at heart. We're very low cost as a discount retailer, we don't have a lot of budget so we have to keep it simple and use props effectively and getting the best engagement for our buck."

The discount retailer does not have the budget for above the line advertising, instead it has to get the most bang for its buck through social and PR channels.

Crafting the Posts

For each post, content manager Tavis Wright, the only man and "voice of reason" in Poundland's boisterous team behind the work, crafted intricate frescos using the dolls. He would build and shoot the scenes using string and craft gear readily available in Poundland.

He had the freedom to go bold and the budget restriction served as a strong connection to the brand's discount ideals. "There are not as many people signing things off for social as there are for a multimillion-pound above the line TV ad," he reasoned.

Each day in December, Wright and the team would work on reactive, and attention-grabbing elf posts.

On his craft, he said: "It can be incredibly fiddly and involves model and prop making. It is all shot in camera, trying to make six small dolls stand up in certain positions can be frustrating but it involves stringing them up.

"It has personality, it is relatable, it is not bland. Sure you take a few chances but it pays off tenfold. People like us and they like the elves. We've got a lot of people waiting for it to back, even at Easter people were asking where the elf is."

He concluded: "If you make do with what you have, if the ideas are good and you are creative, you can do all sorts of things with virtually no money. That is how we do most things here. You don't have to spend the world to do something fun and engaging."

The Backlash

But it was a Twinings teabag in a controversial tweet that landed it in hot water with regulators. The brand issued a complaint claiming it had been "misused" in the teabagging post.

As a result, the creative was reuploaded minus any branding and accumulated 13,000 retweets. Twinings has been in touch again to ensure it does not appear in the sequel.

Meanwhile, the resulting media coverage also irked the Elf on the Shelf brand, unhappy at being connected to the stunt that actually used dolls the Elves Behavin' Badly range.

The ASA also banned the post in February, two months after it had run. It said the elf was posed “in a sexualised manner and appeared in an untargeted medium where they could be seen by children".

Poundland's response was unyielding: “Britain’s the home of saucy postcards, carry on films and panto, so I’m sad the ASA found my double entendres hard to swallow.

“At least it’s only 84 people who had a sense of humour failure compared to the tens of thousands who got the joke and liked and shared my posts online. I’m doing everything I can to be good so I can get out on good behaviour later this year.”

Poundland's creative team gathered to address a common complaint that circulated on Twitter in the aftermath of teabag-gate - that a female team wouldn't have signed the posts off. Lindsay worked with an almost entirely female team on the project, "it was really frustrating for us," she said.

Standing Out From ‘Glitzy’ Ads

Lindsay said social media campaign like this gives the retailer a chance to come at the big, above the line advertisers like John Lewis. And, she said, Poundland's customer base wouldn't necessarily appreciate a big, spend TV ad - even if the budget was on the table.

According to Lindsay: "Our customers aren't stupid. They see through the glitz and glamour and spend going into these glossy festive ads."

Instead, she hopes customers see the shrewd marketing efforts and that it will resonate through to their Christmas spend.

Lindsay said: "We don't waste customer's money, that is evidenced from the campaign. It is about investing in our products for our customers, we don't believe we should have to pass on the cost to customers."

What To Expect in 2019

One year down the line and the discount retailer has flippantly said its new campaign will be "the ASA’s worst nightmare".

The response to the campaign "says more about other people than it does about us," added Lindsay.

Elfie the Elf will now be accompanied by a female companion called Elvie in order to “double the impact” of the campaign. It could also enable more rowdy elf mayhem. In the press release, it threatened: "It remains to be seen whether Poundland’s Elf will emerge a reformed character and take what may well be the last chance to redeem himself.”

His antics this year may also include parodies of other retailer's Christmas ads.

Despite this confrontational rhetoric, the team are much cooler on the subject. On whether there will be another spat with the ad watchdog, Lindsay said: "That's up to them, to be honest, we're not too concerned."

Now upon the impending launch of the campaign's return early in December, with triple the budget (£76.59) of 2018's efforts, Lindsay said: "We had a good response from customers, it was very reactive and that's what we are going after this year. Customers love the disruptiveness that we gave."

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.