Three UK's new animated ad campaign features the graceful and dignified Giraffamingo (that's a giraffe/flamingo hybrid). The brand's current marketing strategy seems to be centred on splicing together various animal genomes, begging the question: are untampered animals enough to win over consumers anymore?
Out there in ad land, there are creatives, all hopped up on caffeine (or something) hosting a brain-storming session. Their objective? To Frankenstein or Jurassic Park a new mixed-breed animal mascot that will wow audiences and make [insert product] fly off shelves.
The session goes something like this.
Harry: "I feel strongly about getting some sloth arms in there."
Dave: "Fuck sake, sloths just don't work mate, raccoon arms deliver greater brand recognition."
Racquel: "Don't you think the raccoon arms will clash with the dragon wings and cats eyes?"
Pierre: "I think we've lost sight of the bigger picture, it's the legs that are most important, and it should be stubby sloth legs, not sloth arms."
Harry: "Market research actually shows that legs don't matter so I was thinking about just using human baby legs."
An ancient tradition
Animal experimentation in storytelling is not a new trend. Threaded through the mythological confines of history, village elders have been merging animals together to create deities in a centuries-long, plague-fuelled game of Chinese whispers. These mythological archetypes arguably increased the reach and effectiveness of sacred marketing messages. There’s a Wikipedia (and a handful of holy texts) just brimming with relevant examples.
There was Pegasus (horse/bird), Medusa (snake/woman), the cockatrice (dragon/chicken), Anubis (jackal/man), the tanuki (racoon/dog) and the Garden of Eden variety Satan (snake/devil).
Thousands of years later and anthropomorphic animals start cropping up in modern advertising on TV. Tony the Tiger, Charlie Tuna and Morris the Cat made their debut in the 1950s. With the advent of the information superhighway, we've been saturated with lovable animals touting brands.
Now on the internet, cats are like catnip for cat lovers. Compare the Market is just as commonly mispronounced as Compare the Meerkat, Hello Kitty is a billion-dollar brand appearing on products from guns to breast pumps and Andrex wants you to think of the smooth, rich coat of a Labrador Retriever the next time you have a bowel movement.
Portland State University researchers noted that creatives leverage the “human-animal relationship” to associate select traits and emotions with brands. Back in 1996, Nancy E Spears noticed that each advertising sector had a slew of animals it was more likely to lean on – ones with traits that paired well with their products.
Do animals need to be disrupted?
Judging by the animal splicing revolution, vanilla creatures are old hat. Each species that was allegedly marched onto Noah's cruiseliner has served their purpose. We’ve loved and left each and every one of them.
Now advertisers are looking to the allegory of Jurassic Park for inspiration, ignoring its credentials as a cautionary tale, and instead thinking "that T-Rex would look great with kangaroo legs".
As Dr Ian Malcolm put it in Spielberg's masterpiece. “Your [creatives] were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.” Or perhaps they have taken a leaf out of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: “I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.”
Dissecting the beasts
Three UK is the latest brand busy in the design lab concocting new animals with Wieden+Kennedy London. To date, it has brought about the Dolph-a-sloth and Giraffamingo. One is a habitually slow beast granted oceanic transit grace, and the other, a lanky, swaggering VIP bird-mammal. Both are inextricably linked to each ad's call-to-action.
In actual fact, the Giraffamingo was so popular it warranted a sequel ad to highlight the brand’s EasyJet partnership. Three and animation specialists The Mill also have more animals cooking away in the lab.
The pug is a most pitiful dog – one that suffers with immediate respiratory issues and "horrific pain" thanks to inbreeding. But the pug is inarguably the jester of the canine genus. The pug's eternally confused expression, its laboured gait and the sight of its dry, dangling tongue ineffectively flapping air into its flat face added to its comedy and tragedy. However, when paired with a strikingly effective set of butterfly wings, what was once a stunted canine is now suddenly capable of marvelous feats.
The mobile carrier wants consumers to associate this liberation with its brand (I think).
This was a mascot fit for the Snapchat age. It was integrated into the app's filters and was gamified to encourage users to keep the pug alive and happy, Tamagotchi style.
Katrina Ward-Smith, director of brand and communications at Three UK, told The Drum that the creative process for the Puggerfly was "expressive, fun and uninhibited". The Puggerfly is officially adorable, but perhaps creatives need to find their "inhibitions" again lest they deliver fear-inducing "viral" creatures.
I introduce you to Mountain Dew's 2016 Super Bowl entry - The Puppy Money Baby, a creative monstrosity with a helpfully self-explanatory name. Here, we see a human baby introduced into the pug/monkey mix.
With the smooshed head of the hard-of-lung pug, the spider-like mandibles of the howler monkey and the diaper-laden, plodding legs of a human tot, the brand developed a monster fittingly at home in the nightmare lounge with Freddie Krueger, Trump's tweets and the over-bearing weight of adult responsibility.
The brand sank up to $6m for the Super Bowl slot, forcing the world to bask in its sheer perverse creative.
This bastardisation of a baby (as The Drum put it) "scarred a generation of children (and also gained mass exposure and brand retention)". BBDO New York is to thank for this creative - and the 'Freak Chain' that came after.
Pre-dating the Puppy Monkey Baby was Orangina's human-like-animal blends in the early 2000s during the infancy of affordable computer generated spots. The campaign was called 'Naturally' and it spoofed the generic ads of the time by touting the soda as a do-all tonic suitable for cleaning, deodorant and mouthwash.
Each ad featured an unforgettable animal going about its daily human activities. And on a Zen diagram of 'unease with furry culture' and 'fear of the uncanny valley', these animals sat comfortably in the middle.
The work, executed in France and the UK, can be watched in its entirety in this playlist. The one that sticks in the mind is the hyper-sexualised car wash leopard woman.
AgencyFred and Faris delivered the work. A member of staff has went into painstaking detail in a comprehensive Wiki for furries on how 13 distinct, memorable and animated parody ads were delivered in a short time-scale.
When it works best
Animal/human blends aside, there have been even more nuanced angles that brands have used to come at the issue of animal fatigue. Volkswagen ran quite a clever campaign in 2015, refreshing the genre with tiny hybrid animals.
Volkswagen and Ogilvy South Africa played God in the lab to deliver a memorable print campaign tying into the 'small but ferocious' strapline that was selling the public its ground-breaking TSI technology at the time.
It created the formidable Humboon, a Bearrel and a Bumbletiger.
Digital storage company Kingston also went down a similar line to Volkswagen. Its unique take was delivering agility to traditionally cumbersome animals in 2014.
Havas masterminded this work. It was touting the fact its USBs were "expectably big but surprisingly speedy".
So what's to come in the future as science and technology progress?
Will the marketing world be saturated with new animals? Maybe hipsters will become interested in the old-school normal animals again. Maybe advertisers will turn their splicing capabilities to humans to create docile, non-ad-blocking, hyper-retentive consumption machines.
Ethics aside, are these new humans more likely to read The Drum?
If so, we're in.