Five by Five’s Barry Markham: how creative bravery fired the best launches of 2017

Launching a new product is a big deal. Every launch, however well researched and planned, has the potential to bomb. In an unpredictable world, fraught with risk and uncertainty, pushing the boundaries on innovation and creativity might feel risky and is certainly nerve-wracking. But to truly disrupt an industry or to genuinely cut through, launching with bravery is the only way.

The pay-off can be remarkable – whether its challenging the norm, shaking up an industry or even kicking off a new consumer trend – a bold approach with strength and clarity is the best way to deliver great results. Here are five launches that have smashed the status quo and got people thinking in 2017.

Citymapper – Smartbus

An app leaps from the digital to the physical world. A physical bus that took to London’s streets. The transport app’s bus presented a vision of mass transit vehicles ready for the future’s smart cities. How? Well, they took the Citymapper tech and wired it into the bus; the vehicle’s data was fed back to offices to ensure it operated at a ‘smart’ pace in real time, taking into account the nightmarish London traffic, planned road closures and so on. It’s also a weapon against ‘bus-bunching’: that annoying phenomenon when three buses arrive at once, then you have to wait half an hour outside the kebab shop for the next one.

Citymapper put the mission first, before the usual PR noise. They announced just one day before launching onto the streets of London. That could’ve been left in the dust by the capital’s 24/7 news agenda, mangled alongside some used Metro pages. But Citymapper knows its audience. It knows what it excels at. It’s as much a spontaneous tool as it is a forward-planning feature. By actually showcasing the app’s convenience physically, you could see how much Citymapper helps people on a day-to-day basis.

Lynx You – #isitokayforguys

King of the Christmas stocking, Lynx has forever been associated with laddish’ content. This changed with the launch of Lynx You. Moving away from the tired trope of scantily clad beach bods, the deodorant brand’s communications overhaul was complete with its #isitokayforguys campaign: a 45-second, Google Search-driven initiative. Men think aloud, asking questions like, “Is it ok for guys to wear pink?” and “Is it ok for guys to experiment with other guys?”

Obviously yes, it is, but the shift in tone is such a contrast to the traditional Lynx brand. It’s no longer about being ‘manly.’ It’s about challenging gender stereotypes, and asking deep-rooted questions from actual Google Searches rather than just showing you something to aspire to, or a man made of chocolate. Lynx has a giant customer base, and this change in tack was a classy update, a launch into the present, rather than a betrayal of its audience.

SodaStream – Shame or Glory

SodaStream Australia’s Shame or Glory ad riffs on the iconic Game of Thrones scene where Cersei Lannister embarks on a walk of shame. This time, however, it’s a normal bloke in the supermarket who takes a walk of shame for buying bottled sparkling water. The Mountain, another GOT character, also gives him a hiding, before showing how Sodastream is good for the dolphins and stuff and, in his own words: “f*ck plastic bottles.”

It’s brave because it means something. The ad launches a diatribe against Australian environmental habits, with only one third of the billion plastic bottles sold in Oz every year being recycled. SodaStream has long championed sustainability – its bottles are reusable for three years – but with Shame or Glory, it actively challenges those refusing to help the environment. It captured GOT’s zeitgeist and used it to create a platform for change. Sodastream set its stall out for all to see, unafraid of disrupting the norm and reinventing itself despite backlash – the International Bottled Water Association threatened legal action.

KFC – Clean Eating Burger

Life’s too short for bad food. KFC’s fake recipe for the clean-eating burger – raw cauliflower, pulsed ice, kale and boiled chicken – featured in an ad fronted by Figgy Poppleton-Rice, a fictional food vlogger who keeps her ice cubes in the freezer “for that extra crunchy taste.” Figgy’s demonstration lasts for two minutes before KFC’s brand new Dirty Louisiana lands on top of it, shattering the illusion.

With an Instagram account being created for Figgy beforehand (and reaching over 19,000 followers) and the ad taking two minutes to reveal the gag, this launch was a sizeable risk for KFC. With attention spans waning, people actually fell for this – they believed that KFC, home of the Colonel and his wonderfully greasy grub, had succumbed to the healthy eating trend. Nah. They were just launching something else that, well, appeals to KFC customers. But what a way to go about it.

Firefly – Superfly

Coca-Cola. Innocent. Monster Energy. Drinks brands spend ages crafting their logos on packaging, instantly recognisable to anyone with a penchant for carbonated bliss. So when Firefly launched its latest booze-free cocktail Superfly in partnership with Mr Lyan, without one speck of obvious logo branding, it turned heads.

It left the fate of the brand in the consumer’s hands. Do I buy the old usual, or do I go for this gorgeously crafted bottle I’ve never seen before? In lieu of logo, Superfly’s design is a floral tapestry, its shape still recognisable as a Firefly bottle to existing customers.

And perhaps this was something more than traditional advertising? Perhaps it was a bid to connect with bar staff – the Superfly bottle will surely be a talking point between a bartender and customer spoilt for choice. And that’s what we’ve always got to remember: never settle. Always strive for something different. It doesn’t have to be the newest thing in the world – it just has to connect with people.

So there you have it, five launches that demonstrate bravery in different ways. There’s no doubt that there were some nervous marketers and their agencies the night before these beauties landed. But that’s just a sign that you’re doing something exciting.

Barry Markham is an art director at Five by Five

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