Veganuary. Dry January. Blue Monday. A sobering, cruelty-free look in the cracked mirror of the year just gone, January is rife with the making and breaking of new habits, justified by the fact that the month contains your – statistically proven, apparently – glummest day at work.
Yet despite the soul-searching, the re-evaluating, the ‘new year, new me, straight after that pack of Digestives’, the transition period between Christmas excess and January reboot brought with it many interesting launches across a myriad of sectors.
When Aldi’s offering a decent range of animal-free products for reasonable prices, it’s time for the big guns to up their game or face plant-based exodus. Tesco’s pretty much comprehensive launch of 20 vegan products is the fruit of collaboration with Derek Samo: ex-senior global executive chef at Whole Foods and former chef for an international Buddhist centre.
Launching ‘Wicked Kitchen’ in Veganuary was an absolute clincher for Tesco. Thousands of curious plant-dabblers need to get their fix somewhere, and with what Samo describes as ‘rubbish’ competition from other supermarket chains, his stamp of authenticity is the dairy-free icing on the eggless cake. Even the omission of the word ‘vegan’ on the front of the packaging is a stroke of genius for this launch, sucking meat-eaters in without them feeling part of a ‘trend’.
And this is anything but a trend; by acutely reacting to veganism’s rising popularity and launching with a credible partner, Tesco has positioned itself as the green-munching leader of supermarket offerings. Asda launched some on-the-go options too, but it was too late in the day. Tesco won.
Tabloid relaunch. Slick new online interface. Big changes for the Guardian. The smaller format was announced last June, with the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, finally sharing this 30-second teaser on Twitter in the new year. The tabloid-shaped space sent ripples of speculation, with many saying the paper would lose out on print-ad revenue – a further blow to Guardian Media Group’s three-year transformation, including plans to break even at an operating level by the end of its 2018-19 financial year.
It’s too early to tell if this cost-cutting hop from Berliner to tabloid will pay off, but the Guardian needed to do something. With the mobile-first design and bold new masthead – the first update since 2005 – leading the way, its digital spruce-up is a fine way of keeping up with the Joneses.
And it’s all thanks to the Guardian’s 800,000 regular online readers who choose to pay for it, despite the website remaining paywall-free. Paying for something that’s free. Imagine that. Launching the new web look alongside the tabloid has been a major coup – both are bold yet necessary, and together they form a united front that says the Guardian really means business in 2018.
Seattle: the home of grunge, sleeplessness and now the future of shopping, it seems. Amazon announced Go, its almost entirely unmanned concept grocery store, in late 2016 with an early 2017 launch slated. Alas, we’ve waited a whole year for the damn thing to open, delays blamed on the camera-tracking tech not being up to scratch. And the result?
Well, it seemed like a usual shop opening. Smiley employees greeted revellers, with a few inside the store to offer assistance, stock up the shelves and other miscellaneous things robots haven’t worked out how to do better than us (yet). The concept of its ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, not scanning anything, not technically having to interact with anyone, is a monumental proposition and one that could change the face of retail forever.
Amazon worked to its own pace and didn’t roll out a half-baked offering – although someone still managed to steal a yoghurt. Accidently.
For the majority of the world, Black Mirror’s fourth series was as pleasant as a dystopian, gritty drama from the warped mind of Charlie Brooker could be. Episodic trailers and a light-hearted(ish) Happy New Year message were gentle nudges towards the warm, fuzzy climax of watching a robot dog headshot a man as we drank mulled wine and tried to sleep off the excess Christmas weight.
But in Turkey, Netflix users needn’t have watched the series – they got a taste of it for real. A direct message was pinged to their accounts, stating: "We know what you’re up to. Watch and see what we will do." Yes, all right, it’s alluding to The Waldo Moment, a previous episode involving a foul-mouthed, blue cartoon bear running for parliament, but that’s beside the point.
Viewing this frankly scary message about creepy surveillance as an advertising stunt? In Turkey, under a state of emergency? This doesn’t come off as a playful marketing gimmick – it’s sour and lacks any empathy. It’s dangerous. With some users planning to report the message to legal authorities due to its intrusive nature, surely red lights would go off in the marketing department as soon as this idea was thrown about. The fact that it was allowed to play out shows a worrying vacuity of understanding on behalf of everyone involved.
With advent calendars only having just gone in the bin, Cadbury’s didn’t waste any time in turning our attention to Easter. Launching its new white Creme Egg at the start of the new year, the chocolatey treat comes with an extra, Willy Wonka-style cash prize bonus of up to £2,000 for anyone managing to hunt one of these limited-edition bad boys down.
While there’s nothing unusual about this kind of on-pack promotion, it perfectly complements the revisited TV ads to mark the start of ‘Creme Egg hunting season’. Plus, they’ve also teased a sneaky way of finding out if you’re one of the lucky ones without even unwrapping your egg. And don’t forget the launch of its ginormous Creme Egg trifle – once you see this, you can’t unsee it.
Not wanting to miss a trick, an egg-sighting pop-up woodland camp at London’s Old Street tube is also set to deliver five weeks’ of egg-themed treats, drinks and chance to find one of those elusive white eggs in the forest – although Nana’s favourite grime artist, Stormzy, is allegedly nonplussed with an offer of a white Creme Egg.
And while there’s been some backlash about greedy egg hunters unhygienically opening the foil on eggs in the shop – yum! Grubby fondled chocolate – this campaign is genuinely getting people engaged with, well, chocolate. Cadbury’s might just want to rethink the competition mechanic next time…
But no, truthfully, this is a fantastic campaign, and a fine note to finish on. If anyone does find one of those White Eggs, though… do let me know.
James Roles is sales and marketing director at Five by Five