‘Not all animated pigs are adorable’: how Moonpig took its mascots from creepy to cute
Moonpig’s very pink, super-cute piglet mascots are back. The Drum caught up with Creature London to find out how these adorable animals landed on screens and their hilarious journey from ‘terrifying’ to endearing.
Moonpig brought back its cute piglet mascots for latest campaign / Creature London
Last month, online retailer Moonpig injected a little dose of pastel-hued happiness back on to our screens with its latest ad to feature the cheeky piglets. The mascots made their debut last year amid the pandemic: “[Moonpig] called up and said, ‘you know what, it’s an absolute bin fire out there, but it turns out people are really, really needing to send each other cards, flowers and gifts,’” Ben Middleton, chief creative officer at Creature London, says of the initial brief.
Originally the creatives had the idea of a ‘pink world,’ but needed to figure out how to make people “really love” the brand. It was Meghan Egan, senior creative at the agency, who landed on the idea of the piglets as a metaphor for all the products that Moonpig has to offer.
But getting the look spot on proved a little difficult: “There were many wonderful moments on that journey where we had what can only be described as terrifying pigs,” jokes Middleton. “My god, you haven’t seen fear like it when you see a piglet with tiny eyes, or eyes that are too big. Even a pig bearing his teeth is weirdly frightening. Not all animated pigs are adorable.”
The first round of sketches looked like “Porky Pig from the Warner Brothers cartoons,” laughs Middleton. Apparently, it had a very bulbous forehead and the artist thought it looked cool, but then when you made it look like a ‘real’ pig you ended up with “something that looks like it should have been put down, not something you should be building a brand around.”
Nightmare-inducing pigs aside, the initial animation stage is a favorite time for Middleton as “you’re working with people that are really talented,” and it’s the pushing and pulling balancing act of trying to work through concepts. For Moonpig projects, it’s a must to have all the drawings pinned to the wall so everyone on the team can see the development.
Fast forward to this September, and the brand just launched the latest iteration of the piglets’ world – a warehouse filled with many cardboard boxes for them to nosey through. “It was a really lovely brief actually,” recalls Middleton. “One of the things that I think we do well at Creature is that we love making ads to sell stuff. There was a really clear set of requirements for [the campaign]. It had to be well branded, able to hold four different products in the 30 seconds that we had and show off the fact that [Moonpig does] lots of different stuff.”
One of the challenges faced by the team was trying to strike the balance between an entertaining narrative and making sure the goods got airtime – a pig-to-product ratio so to speak. “It was a balancing act,” adds Middleton. “Moonpig is great, they know that you can’t just shout to people about product – you still need to talk about it.
“You have a thing called an animatic, which is a crap line-drawing version of a storyboard before rendering it all up. It was a process of trying to work out what the pigs would be doing and how long before products came on screen.”
At its core, it’s a character-led campaign. A tried-and-tested method that, if done well, just works. “The mark of a brilliant character-led campaign is that the agency and client care way, way, way, way, way more about the level of detail behind the characters than real people ever will,” says Dan Cullen-Shute, chief executive officer and founder of Creature London.
He notes that there is “so much” strategic work that goes into a campaign like this, with many differing opinions and priorities, that can often lead to some ‘weird’ conversations. “You’ve got a certain group of people going, ‘they’re just really fucking cool pigs and it’s gonna look awesome. Can we make one of them float upside down?’ And then you’ve got other people going, ‘sure, but hang on, should they be pulling a cart to deliver the gifts? Are they the gifts, would it be easier if they just turned into the gifts?’
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“And then you’ve got another group of people going, ‘they’re absolutely not the gifts. I don’t know what gave you the idea that they are gifts because they are not.’ It’s wonderful and it sounds mad because it is mad.”
Of course, you can’t write, talk or even think about Moonpig without singing the jingle in your head or out loud. It’s just not possible. A brilliant bit of brand equity for the retailer, but maybe slightly annoying for everyone else?
“We had the option to get rid of it,” admits Middleton. “It was an open brief and we wanted to absolutely keep it. It’s something that everybody knows, it’s in culture, you’d be mad to lose it.”
Cullen-Shute believes that the ad industry can be “really weird” about jingles, but the reality is that “we’re an industry that exists to sell” and people can dress that up however they wish, but ultimately if “we do our job right, then businesses do better.”
An analogy from Creature strategist Andrew Gibson hits the nail on the head: “The Moonpig jingle is like Mumford and Sons. Everybody knows it, but nobody really gives a shit. We need to help turn it into The National.” So the jingle had the backing of the entire team, and they built on the “shameless, insistent, repetitive thing that was locked in there” and started to make it mean something.
The piglets’ journey doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. “If people knew how much thought went into how those pigs act, what they represent and how they interact with each other, they would – quite rightly – think we were all fucking mental,” concludes Cullen-Shute.
“But it is genuinely that level of rigor, thought and occasionally obsessive behavior that leads to these brilliant stories that all flow together.”