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Saving the world, pitching persuasion & planning for innovation

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In this month's issue, we look at a rather wonderful example of gamification by WHSmith, consider whether crowbarring lofty ideals into products is always such a good idea, and highlight the importance of having an innovation strategy.
Global marketing perspectives

Global Perspectives brings you the latest thought-provoking ideas, real-life case studies and sharpest insights to help you become a better marketer.

International Campaign Highlight

Client: WHSmith
Country: UAE

UK-born global bookseller and retailer, WHSmith, ran a successful campaign to help tackle declining reading rates in the UAE. Their assistance was much needed. According to an Arab Thought Foundation survey, an Arab child reads just six minutes a year compared to 12,000 minutes in the West.

Why such low literacy rates?

Clearly, there are many facets to the problem, but the rise of mobile gaming has reportedly led to a disinterest in books, making matters worse. Books sales were declining (down 52% in volume) and library’s sparsely populated. The truth is, even the most beautifully illustrated book has a tough time competing against the levels of immersion made possible in the gaming world.

How did WHSmith tackle the problem?

WHSmith entered the world they love – mobile games. They developed ‘Pop Up Books’ as pop-up ads on some of the most popular children’s games. Because the ads can’t be closed, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the joy of reading.

The stories were matched to the type of game being played. The child had to read the short story in order pick the correct answer and close the ad (adding an element of gamification). It was designed on the idea of repetition and reward, shown by psychological studies to be the most effective way of developing new behaviours in children. As a further enticement, their successful reading of the pop-up book gave them further rewards to use in the game.

Of course, the ad also encouraged them to visit the WHSmith website and promoted the wonderful collection of books available in store (to parents and children alike).


  • The campaign engaged 29% of children in the UAE (ages 7-10)
  • 98% of the stories were read till the end, with 1.1 million completed views.
  • Led to increased footfall in stores and a sales volume increase of 11%.

Lessons for marketers:

1. Don’t hope your prospect will find you on your preferred medium, locate where they are – and address them in that space!

2. It’s easy to assume that an innovative platform or mode of entertainment fails to fit with your brand. But is that true?

3. Could your marketing benefit from gamification techniques? For example, it’s been shown that interactive ads are more likely to engage viewers than passive ones. This article is worth reading: How You Can Leverage Gamification for Marketing (

4. Purpose-led marketing is more than a shallow brand-building exercise. It needs to provide a practical real-world benefit. Here, WHSmith addressed an issue important to its business model and used its clout to create something truly meaningful.

Further reading:


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Saving the world vs selling your product

future of retail ecoOn the subject of purpose-led advertising, the industry is awash with companies boasting of their high-minded ideals. I’ll be honest, it’s a personal grip of mine: so much of it appears paper-thin and merely represents the hijacking of fashionable causes in order to chime with the consumer.

Yet, I’m really not sure that the green-washing, woke-washing agenda really, well, washes with the consumer.

As the WHSmith example shows, companies can and should consider the wider good and how to serve it. It doesn’t have to be a cynical PR exercise. But, of course, signalling virtue is a lot easier than actually doing something of substance.

David Kolbusz, from Droga5, warned in a recent panel discussion with Campaign magazine that purpose-led advertising has led brands astray because they had become too “wrapped up in trying to save the world” (or, as I would argue,  seeking to appear like they’re trying to save the world).

He says many brands would be better off providing levity and trying to entertain consumers. After all, who wants to be preached to? Who wants to be reminded of political issues by a tub of ice cream?

We’ve covered the issue of “woke-washing” on a previous issue. But it’s worth reiterating. It certainly feels like the push back is starting to grow as more senior marketers and business leaders speak out on the issue.

Fund manager Terry Smith and leading shareholder in Unilever – owner of Ben & Jerry’s – has criticised the company’s performance and lays part of the blame on its political posturing.

“Unilever seems to be labouring under the weight of a management which is obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business.”

“…A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot.”  

In the case of Ben & Jerry’s, it certainly has form:

  • In 2020 Ben & Jerry’s admonished UK Home Secretary Priti Patel over the migrant crisis (on Twitter, of course)
  • It provided outspoken commentary on the death of George Floyd and even released a special ‘Change is Brewing’ ice cream with proceeds going to support the defund the police movement.
  • Previously campaigned against Trumpism

Look into the company’s history, however, and its ‘progressive’ credentials quickly melt away.

And do people buy into it? A survey of 2000 UK adults by Hanbury Strategy and Stack Data Strategy, revealed that 56% believed businesses do not reflect their priorities and 70% said they should focus on communicating how they can improve customer service.

Perhaps it’s time for brands to lighten up, focus on their customers and operate in genuinely ethical ways. Younger generations may be increasingly value driven, but does that make them naive? Some brands clearly believe yes, it does.

Key lessons for marketers:

  • Avoid crowbarring your brand into topical issues. Instead, consider how your product or expertise can help the greater good. If it’s aligned with your profit-making agenda, even better. The WHSmith example above is a perfect one. The thinking is simple: “We sell books, not enough kids are reading books, let’s do something about that.” Virtuous circle complete!
  • Consider whether it’s time to bring fun into your marketing. Are you too focused on being idealistic and forgetting to entertain? Perhaps it’s time to unleash your creativity in the silliest of directions.
  • Be wary of letting your own personal political values cloud your marketing. They may not align with the customer’s.

Persuaders are a rare breed…

The Data Marketing Association (DMA) has published an interesting survey which looks at the personality types in the marketing industry. They quizzed over 2,300 marketing professionals and students and discovered that ‘creatives’ were the most common personality type and ‘persuaders’ the rarest (in both categories).

Is this a worry? It’s reckoned that persuasion is responsible for creating a quarter or more of America’s total national income. In a knowledge-driven economy, it’s an incredibly important skill. Want someone to buy your product? You’ll have to persuade them.

Reportedly, the only diploma Warren Buffet displays in his office is a public-speaking certificate. He once told students that improving their communication skills would boost their professional value by 50%.

In an ideal world, a marketing team would have a diverse range of skills, as Tim Bond, Director of Insight, DMA explains:

“Each marketing personality type offers unique characteristics which can help organisations to ensure they are continuously evolving. So, it is pivotal that organisations have the right tools and processes in place to attract students from a diverse pool of talent.”

Key lesson for marketers:

• A range of personality types is the ideal for any marketing team or business. You need the creatives, the persuaders, the organisers, the expert communicators, the ruthlessly efficient – in order to have a balanced team. Does you team have a good mix? If not, kick out the ones… (only kidding, possible solution below).

• Consider your own skillset…  Do you have a balanced set of soft skills? Are there any weaknesses you could improve on in order to become a more well-rounded marketer? If you could develop one soft skill in order to become a better marketer, what would it be?

Further reading:

Do you need a strategy for innovation?

Innovation doesn’t just happen, you need to plan for it. That’s true for marketing and businesses as a whole. Francesca Cassidy has written an in-depth article on the subject in Raconteur.

She spoke to a series of innovation leaders, including Dr Jo North, founder of innovation consultancy The Big Bang Partnership:

“Every business needs an innovation strategy, not just to be successful but to survive because the world around us is constantly changing.

“What I mean by an ‘innovation strategy’ is having a plan to grow your business through doing things differently.”

While the concept of innovation elicits excitement, it’s rarely prioritised. Driving efficiency, while boring, can gain results right here and now. However, creating a strategy dedicated to new ways of doing things can be seen as a luxury in comparison – especially for time-poor marketing teams. The future will have to wait. Ostrich-head-sand comes to mind.

Are you an Ostrich? Or will you look to future-proof your business and marketing?

Key lessons for marketers:

• All innovation should start with the consumer in mind? How are their needs changing or likely to change? What are the forces that are going to drive that? What can you do to address them?
• Innovation is risky. Not innovating is riskier still.

Any opinions or insights to share? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below.


Mel Dixon
Author: Mel Dixon
Editor at Global Marketing Alliance

Editor and freelance writer wading his way through the world of data. One step at a time. Interested in data driven marketing insights supported by... data.

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