The (Marketing) Week That Was

If The Voice were a contest for copywriters instead of singers, the team at Firebox would win hands down. Firebox is the sort of etailer that sells heated narwhal slippers alongside toothbrush sanitizers designed to look like ninjas alongside single-serving French presses alongside Abashiri Blue Beer.

The blue beer caught my eye in my Facebook feed the other morning. Not merely because it’s, well, beer that’s a startling blue hue. But because of the brief blurb with which Firebox accompanied the photo: “I’m blue, have a beer or I’ll die, and da ba dee da ba di.”

If you’re lucky, you’re unaware of the frighteningly catchy but utterly inane song titled “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” that Firebox was referencing. I’m not one of the lucky, however, so though the tune immediately lodged itself in my brain, I nonetheless clicked the link to the product.

The copy on the Abashiri product page was just as clever as the Facebook’s blurb, but informative too: “…This striking beer achieves its unique aquamarine hue by using a blend of blue seaweed and locally grown flowers, it even contains water from melted icebergs. To sip this beautiful blue brew is to immerse yourself in the wild and colourful flavours of the frozen Abashiri coastline. Seriously, you're basically drinking the island, soon there'll be nothing left….”

Firebox’s copy voice is consistently cheeky yet fact-based. While the writers clearly aim to entertain, they never forget that job one is to provide shoppers with enough product information to close the sale.

The consistency in terms of voice extends to its Twitter feed too. After reading about the blue beer, I tweeted, “@firebox may have the best copywriters ever.” Within minutes Firebox responded, “We’re also well known for our questionable music tastes, Sherry.” I can’t think of how the brand could have improved upon its reply.

For those reasons, Firebox is our winner of the week. (Cue the kazoos.)

To continue with our Voice metaphor for a moment, two other brands would definitely have been worthy challengers to Firebox. One is the publishing house Penguin. Its newsletters never fail to delight, whether it’s the cute illos of penguins and puffins or the dry humor of its copy, as in this invite to join its reader panel: “Guess what? You love books! You probably knew that already, but thanks to some analytical wizardry and other computerised shenanigans we’ve deduced that you’re one of our most dedicated Penguin Books newsletter openers. Don’t tell the other subscribers but that makes you our favourite...”

Voice is, in fact, what distinguishes Heat from Britain’s myriad other weekly gossip rags. The magazine is snarky, but deep down you know it doesn’t really want to hurt the objects of its ribbing—well, at least not most of them. It’s just a laugh and a lark, and too bad if they can’t take a joke.

Here’s a taste of Heat’s voice, from this week’s email announcing its website redesign: “After a hundred thousand meetings, a million billion printed out redesigns, and an infinite number of articles transferred from the old website to the new one... has a brand new look! And seriously, look at it: so shiny! So colourful! So many celebrity stories to marvel at!” Us magazine (in the States) or Now (one of Heat’s UK rivals) wouldn’t use phrases such as “million billion” and “so shiny!”—either on its pages or in its emails. Heat shows that in a commoditized market (and yes, celebrity gossip has become commoditized), a startlingly different voice is a worthy USP.

[An aside: When I lived in Devon, my Tuesday morning ritual included stopping at Tesco to buy the new Heat (and a chicken-and-bacon sandwich—oh, and some strawberry laces: breakfast of champions and that). Shortly after I returned to the States, the newsstands in Grand Central Station stopped carrying Heat, and I don’t know where I can buy it here in Manhattan. If you can hook me up, please do!]

If there are winners, there have to be losers too. Voice isn’t what let down this web advert from department store Macy’s; simple lack of brain cells did:

“The Great Baby Sale”? With the headline above a photo of a racially diverse selection of four babies, as if to show the variety of colorways you can choose from? And “Save 50% when you buy 2 or more”? Yeah, beneath that it says “select styles from Carter’s, First Impressions, blah blah blah,” but still…

Making matters worse for Macy’s is that it had paid to run on the Daily Mail’s website just below the newspaper’s nav bars and above the headline of its lead story—which happened to be “ ‘She begged me for a baby so she wouldn’t be an old mom and paid $30,000 to our surrogate’…” She probably could have saved a bundle by skipping the surrogate and shopping at Macy’s instead.

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, but I’m going to try to get back into the groove. If you have anything cool or heinous you’d like to share, feel free to send it along!

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