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Case Study: Lynx Pulse

Creating a dance craze and No 1 record to launch a deodorant is unorthodox, to say the least, but Lynx Pulse proves how lateral thinking can deliver powerful alternatives to traditional, media-driven creative solutions.

Lynx is the UK's best selling men’s deodorant.* The Lever Fabergé-owned brand targets young men in their late teens and early twenties. A central plank of the brand’s marketing strategy is the annual launch of new variants. The aim is to emulate the world of fine fragrances to keep the brand fresh and maintain consumer interest. Lynx variants are developed for the company by leading perfume houses and each reflects that year’s particular fine fragrance trend.

In 2002 Lever Fabergé began work on its next variant, which was to be launched in 2003: Lynx Pulse. The challenge was to create a launch campaign capable of winning young male consumers’ attention: the launch had to stand out against competition from an on-going sequence of other new launches – new movies, CDs and computer games. The resulting strategy borrowed from such entertainment industry launches and centred on a bold and, potentially, high risk idea: to create a cultural phenomenon.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) invented a dance; launched a single; created a TV campaign based around each and backed this up with a carefully orchestrated PR campaign. 'Make Luv', released by Room 5, featured the sampled voice of Oliver Cheatham and went to number one in the UK singles charts, staying there for four weeks. It also peaked at number 34 in Australia. The single's title track was a remix of Cheatham's 1983 #38 hit," Get Down Saturday Night". 

*Axe in North America, South America, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Asia and Eastern Europe.

Lynx Pulse, meanwhile, became Lynx’s number one selling variant within just two weeks of launch. Today it has a seven per cent share of the total UK deoderant market with sales to date 80 per cent higher than the sales of Lynx’s 2002 variant, Dimension.

Exploiting 'The Lynx Effect'

Since its launch in the UK in 1985, Lynx has gone from strength to strength. Lynx advertising initially revolved around the concept of attraction. This worked well for a while, but by the early Nineties the brand was starting to lose its edge. ‘The Lynx Effect’ brand strategy was developed by BBH and re-focused on its target market, identifying a single common truth: that young guys are pre-occupied with the opposite sex, but often lack the confidence to do anything about it. The new campaign portrayed women finding Lynx users irresistible.

Work on the development of Lynx Pulse began in 2002. “When introducing a new variant we always start with the name first, then build a concept around that, create a brand icon, then develop the communications strategy around that,” says Margaret Jobling, European brand director for Lynx Pulse at Lever Fabergé. The plan was to launch the new variant in 15 territories across Europe and the Middle East with the same campaign.

The courage to be different

In the beginning was the brand name, Pulse,” says BBH executive creative director John O’Keeffe. “It was (BBH head of design) Matt Kemsley who first said the name sounded dance-y and that we should do something with that. We knew we needed a creative idea that would really stand out, so we began thinking about how to bring this to life. Matt suggested creating a dance and bringing out a record as a way of directly engaging with the young men we needed to reach – the idea evolved rapidly from that.”

BBH proposed that a piece of music be the communications platform for the launch campaign. Television would still be an essential part of the mix, but the launch of the dance and single would come first; each would then be picked up in the TV ad. It even hoped that the track would reach Number 1 – a high-risk strategy indeed. Despite the potential pitfalls, Jobling says Lever Fabergé “loved the idea” from the outset.

“There’s no denying it was an unusual starting point. And we were certainly naïve about the process we were about to get into. But because our relationship with BBH is so strong, and because of the nature of the Lynx brand and how it is managed within Lever Fabergé, BBH found very little resistance to the idea,” she says. “It was a great idea, if a bit scary.”

Lynx’s target market is very different from those targeted by most other Unilever-owned brands. As a result, the company allows the Lynx brand greater flexibility in its marketing approach.

“For a brand like Lynx, if you don’t do it differently you don’t survive – it’s as simple as that, as a result, Lynx has to act and behave differently within a fairly corporate brand owner environment.”

Margaret Jobling
European brand director for Lynx Pulse
Lever Fabergé

There was, however, one initial idea that proved to too hard to swallow.“At first we did consider launching Pulse just with a single and pop promo – in other words, without a TV ad,” she adds. "But given how ground-breaking the rest of the launch strategy was, and with our need to use this campaign in a number of different international markets including some where a single would not be released, it made sense to have a TV commercial to drive the idea through. And it also provided Unilever with a degree of comfort to know that at least we’d end up with a TV campaign.”

Bringing vision to reality

BBH faced two major challenges to being this unorthodox product launch strategy to life. The first was finding the right music track. The second was assembling the right team. This was no traditional launch advertising campaign. If both dance and track were to take off they needed to be seeded carefully at a grassroots level – in pubs and clubs across the country - before the TV ad’s launch.

Success, then, would also depend on a complete re-think of the creative partners required for the launch campaign - choreographers, record industry insiders and PR advisers had to be involved from the outset, and how this disparate team should be managed by BBH.

The music and the right dance were the two central pillars around which the Lynx Pulse launch campaign was created. The TV ad, although important, would take its lead from both with a simple narrative idea – man at bar seems geeky until he starts to dance and ends up looking cool. So unlike BBH’s other TV campaigns, such as those for Levis, with this one the music had to come first.

BBH decided to reverse its usual development process – which involves showing a finished ad to music search agencies - and put out, instead, a detailed brief before the ad was made. Key requirements were that the track be inclusive – cool, but not elitist; had a clear, memorable hook; and wasn’t by a ‘star’ name who’s profile might overshadow the brand. The team previewed hundreds of tracks but none made an impact.

Eventually, however, one track became the agency’s preferred choice – a remix of a minor hit, ‘Get Down Saturday Night’ by Oliver Cheatham, called ‘Make Luv’. The only trouble was, the client didn’t like it.

“It felt quite pop-y,” Jobling explains. “Initially it was felt to be too mainstream and not different enough. But reaction to music is completely subjective. BBH went off to discuss it some more with people in the music business and their conviction persuaded us that, at the end of the day, we had to bow to the creative experts.” It was a process for which traditional research tools favoured by large brand owners such as Unilever were completely irrelevant, she adds: “It was the first of a number of points in the process when we just had to ‘go with it’.”

The next step was to create the right dance. BBH teamed up with Richmond Talluega, a well-known choreographer to stars including Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, to make a dance to accompany the track that would be easy to copy. “To be easy to copy, a dance has to be modular,” O’Keeffe says. “What proved particularly effective was that while it was copy-able, it took numerous viewings of the dance when featured in the ad for the viewer to pick up all the modules. Our target audience simply had to watch it again and again and again.”

Assembling 'the band' and setting the rhythm

As important as finding the right track was assembling the right team to get it to Number 1. “BBH pulled together people with a deep understanding of the music industry at the start of the development process, and they began brainstorming ideas from day one,” Jobling says.

This team comprised a diverse selection of talent. Record company Positiva helped select the track then placed it amongst music industry colleagues. PR company Freuds created a strategy to maximise media interest in all aspects of the campaign. Student brand manager’s agency Get Real! recruited people to do the dance at student events. Digital agency Dare Digital created a dancing character to distribute as a screensaver.

The key to effectively managing these diverse talents was bringing them on board early enough so that each felt they ‘owned’ the idea, says O’Keeffe. “We never briefed them per se,” he explains. “It evolved through joint input. The end result was a far less constraining environment in which to develop a campaign than is the norm. Flexibility and shared ownership were critical and enabled us to manage it effectively.” The best creative output comes from small, energised teams with passion for the project, Jobling adds: “It’s about creating a sense of shared ownership, and shared risk – if it fails, we all fail. If it succeeds, we all benefit.”

The final challenge was to agree the timescale for the roll out of the campaign. Pulse had to be in-store by late February 2003. The campaign to support this was structured as a record company would plan the launch of a music track. The track was seeded first among opinion formers in Ibiza as early as summer 2002, then with early adopters and only after this activity did the ad break on TV in spring 2003; the single was released three to four weeks later.

"By Summer 2003, Lynx’s total brand share had risen to 19%."

'The Pulse Effect'

Within three weeks of the single’s launch it reached number one in the UK singles charts. The level of interest surprised all involved. The actor who played the central character in the ad was even feted by journalists and asked to appear on chart and chat shows – despite not actually performing on the track. But while the creative idea became a cultural phenomenon, it did so without swamping the brand.

“There were many nerve-racking moments – such as during our dealings with the music industry who, unlike Unilever, are happy to conduct business on a hand shake and a G&T,” Jobling admits. “But while it would be difficult to replicate, we have learned a lot. We came to see our own development process was, perhaps, too traditional - we will apply different thinking to structuring and working with future creative partners. Not starting with the TV ad proved to be a liberating experience.”

"Lynx Pulse became Lynx’s number one selling variant within two weeks of launch."

  • Lynx Pulse variant’s value share of the deodorant market, meanwhile, reached 6% within seven months of launch – double that of the previous year’s variant, Lynx Dimension.
  • Pulse currently commands a seven per cent share of UK deoderant sales by value
  • By late summer 2003, Lynx’s total brand share had risen to 19%
  • The launch campaign generated 85 pieces of media coverage estimated to be the equivalent of £2 million-worth of additional paid-for media exposure
  • To date, more than 10 million cans of Pulse had been sold in the UK – that’s one every three seconds
  • Overall, the campaign outperformed its target by 100%
  • It also delivered an unexpected return – re-engaging people internally to give Lever-Fabergé newfound confidence in the Lynx brand.
  • Lynx Pulse achieved three in book accreditations in the D&AD Awards 2004

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

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