Kay Twine is Managing Director of Blue Marlin Asia.
AN INSIDER STORY – By Kay Twine, Managing Director Blue Marlin Asia
Follow Kay on Twitter - www.twitter.com/KT_bluemarlin
Unlike most agency people I haven’t spent my life in an agency – I spent it on the client side, building brands from the bottom up. My specialisation has been taking tired, old and knackered brands, finding relevance for them in the modern world, and bringing them back to life. Never was this more true than when I worked on male hair styling brand, Brylcreem.
I worked for the Sara Lee Corporation for 11 years. One day they announced we were adding to our pre-existing portfolio by buying a group of brands from Smith Kline Beecham.The portfolio included the brand Brylcreem. I must admit, my first thought was what on earth are we going to do with that? A dodo brand if ever there was one.
Brylcreem was a brand of the 60′s when greased back hair and teddy boy hair styles were all the rage. But it was the late 90s at the time, and the brand was so obviously inappropriate!
Teddy Boy style.
We had twenty days notice of the sale and no people to manage it. After scrambling a great team together we set out to break the brand down to see if we could find a nugget on which to rebuild this once great, actually I should say iconic, brand.
We worked with a small research company (Future Featuring) to research consumers’ thoughts on the Brylcreem. We creatively recruited male haircare obsessors who were comfortable being interviewed at length about their hair care behaviours (a rare breed – it turns out that blokes don’t particularly like talking about hair and fashion in groups!). In all this research we found an insight that fundamentally changed the future of the brand and led us to David Beckham.
Our research revealed an insight: if your father used Brylcreem it was a naff brand, but if your Grandfather used Brylcreem it was kind of cool…in a levi’s 501 kind of way. Remember the old images of grandads in their Levi’s, the original and authentic jean? If you could go back to the past you might find something appealing. We had grasped that this was a brand that had lost a generation but there was a warm fuzzy emotional feeling there if we connected it to our recent ancestors. This insight led us back into the history archives of the Brylcreem brand.
Brylcreem. Relevant in the 1990s? not quite.
Amongst all the cheesy old ads (and boy were there some terrible ones!) lay a great, almost forgotten story of the Brylcreem Boy. Many years ago, there was a chap called Dennis Compton, definately a sporting hero of his time and maybe the greatest British sportsman of all. Not only did Compton play cricket for England – he also played football for Arsenal. Such a feat has never been repeated in Britain and probably never will. Brylcreem signed Dennis Compton in the 1960s to be the Brylcreem Boy and he became known all over England, through his sponsorship, by that alliterated name. All our grandfathers knew this story and all the sporting heroes in the world knew it too.
Dennis Compton. The first ‘Brylcreem Boy.’
Together with our PR agency we came up with the idea of creating the New Brylcreem Boy, he would be only the 2nd in history. At this we set off to find him.
We had a tiny budget but we needed a big name. Not ideal, but certainly a common curse of the marketeer! Its not just a great insight that can build your brand truth, but also a rather large hook to reel in the big fish! but did we have the right hook? it turns out that we did, but it wasn’t a financial one.
David Beckham was a very shy young man, only 21 years of age, he could barely speak to camera crews at the time. The upcoming football star was dating some girl they called Posh Spice (she was in some kind of pop group I think!), and playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs, Manchester United. His England career hadn’t quite kicked off at the time but his obvious talent gave us hope. There was one problem however, we didn’t have the budget to land the man who was to become known as Golden Balls. Beckham was already signed with Adidas and Police Sunglasses, brands which were undoubtedly cooler than Brylcreem. So how did we get Becks? well it just so happened that his sporting hero was none other than our original Brylcreem Boy Dennis Compton. A brilliant twist of fate!
A bald David Beckham in an Adidas ad campaign.
The free-kick specialist agreed to sign with Brylcreem for what was an unbelievably low fee (which I won’t reveal as its confidential). He clearly did it for love, and not money! It certainly doesn’t appear that he’s had too many cash flow problems does it? Today David Beckham’s wealth is estimated at £165 million. Wow.
Though it may not be obvious now, we were taking a massive risk with the deal, we were brave for our time. David didn’t wear his hair in conventional L’Oreal coiffed style – he was a working class boy from the streets of Essex and we wanted to be a street brand and be a part of all the crazy trims that he would become famous for Even when he shaved his hair off we got publicity, “Brlycreem Boy shaves his head, Brlycreem is furious.” On the contrary, we were absolutely delighted.
David’s look at the time of signing. Not your average haircare brand look.
Just a selection of Beckham’s most memorable hairstyles.
Of course we still needed great packaging and wanted to maximise the sporting connection. The icon on pack was a lion, which we redesigned lion to be reminiscent of the 3 lions that adorn the England football crest.
The lion logo before (left) and after (right) it was altered to mirror a lion on the England crest.
The day of the launch came up quickly. I was the Marketing Director and the one that had to front the press with the story. I was coached by the PR company to sit at the long press desk and reveal the new Brylcreem Boy. Six TV camera crews turned up and hundreds of photographers. We were blinded by the flashbulbs in a sea of lenses with questions in the form of shouts fighting to be heard. That day gave me a real insight into what some celebrities have to put up with day in day out, the atmosphere was so overbearing. I remember having to ground myself and remember that this frantic crowd weren’t there to see me, but the new Brylcreem Boy. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say but I had prepared a cool one liner to end with, which I was sure would make the news:
“I may not be a Spice Girl but I do know a Brylcreem Boy when I see one. Ladies and Gentleman I give you the new Brylcreem Boy!” At this the cameras went absolutely mental.
David Beckham at first Brylcreem press call.
As we see the astronomical prices football teams are paying for their players these days, signing David Beckham to Brylcreem has to go down as one of the greatest of all time. We recieved millions of pounds worth of publicity for next to nothing. Yesterday, 17 years since we signed Beckham, I woke to see our Brylcreem Boy’s image all over the news once again, as he announced his retirement from football.
All this happened because we were able to find a powerful insight, a truth to the brand upon which we could build and find our perfect poster boy.
David Beckham Brylcreem ad.
Since then, David Beckham has grown hugely in stature and fame to become a brand in his own right. I think I can justifiably claim to have played a part in that and especially his later signings with power brand like Gillette for a reported £40 million.
But it wasn’t a one way favour, David also returned it to me. While I may not have amassed a fortune like his, David has certainly played a small part in helping me build my career to what it is today. Having worked on the client side for so many years I’ve gained some invaluable experience, which I hope is benefiting Blue Marlin now I’m on the agency side.
So I’d like to say, thanks David Beckham and I wish you the very best with your retirement and whatever you go on to do!
Follow Kay on Twitter - www.twitter.com/KT_bluemarlin
Follow Blue Marlin on Twitter – www.twitter.com/bluemarlinbd