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Pretoria agency BRAND et al bags win at M&M Global Awards

In the marketing space, every industry presents its own particular challenges – from perfume to porridge to painkillers. But in the funeral industry the challenges seem particularly fraught. Death makes most marketers – and most people – uncomfortable, and yet it’s the one certainty, besides taxes, in the collective human experience.

So, when BRAND et al set out to differentiate funeral service provider and insurer AVBOB in the sector, it needed a carefully crafted strategy with depth and gravitas and longevity. The truth is, AVBOB deals daily in death, and loss is their true locus; not just the loss of a loved one, but the loss of words in the face of that loss – grief renders us mute. This was a consumer insight – a consumer tragedy – begging for remedy. How to provide the bereaved with words of comfort when they need it most?

None of AVBOB’s competitors had attempted to meet this need. The funeral space has always been marked by price wars, with no single operator standing out. In an industry selling something between a grudge purchase and a commodity, the time was ripe for disruption and differentiation. And what better form of disruptive differentiation than the ‘soft power’ of poetry, the perfect vehicle to express loss? BRAND et al and AVBOB gave the market something they could not ignore – the gentlest form of bereavement support, through the most unorthodox sponsorship: The AVBOB Poetry Project.

Together with their client, BRAND et al conceptualised an online poetry competition – the AVBOB Poetry Competition – open to all South Africans, of all ages, in all 11 official languages, to build a bank of elegiac poems for the benefit of the bereaved, and for all South Africans in their time of need. But both client and agency could never have anticipated the response: over 20 000 poems were entered – unprecedented anywhere in the world!

The competition was officially announced on Mandela Day 2017, and the media response was astounding. The launch was supported by an ongoing digital and social media campaign, to spread awareness, grow the following, and engage the market. Social media platforms were alive with the comments of appreciative poets who had finally found a place to unburden and hone their craft. This was purpose-driven storytelling – user-generated content – unseen before.

Driven by multi-media documentaries, a PR campaign and targeted social media, the project went on to generate a free online anthology, and a 100-poem print anthology. The unorthodox nature of the project generated massive intrigue and extraordinary results. And the call grew for the competition to be institutionalised as an annual event – so, Year 2 of the competition launched anew on 1 August 2018. Endorsements from major literary figures, such as Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee, poured in, and the project garnered local awards and drew international attention through its nomination for several awards at the M&M Global Awards.

And on 20 September, at a glittering gala in London, held at the iconic Troxy Theatre, BRAND et al and AVBOB, competing against 29 other countries, went on to win the M&M Global Awards Best Global Campaign for Financial and Utility Services. The project immediately drew the attention of the judges, who felt that this campaign offered an unusual, sustainable and meaningful solution to what is a truly universal phenomenon: muteness in the face of grief. They felt the campaign went further, by creating a vibrant, organic community of poets, by foregrounding poetry as a significant social resource, and by demonstrating AVBOB’s positioning statement: ‘We’re here for you’.

For AVBOB, the ongoing Poetry Project is a sustainable form of ‘soft power’ which no competitor can replicate, a bottomless source of user-generated content, and a platform for PR to shape the way people think about the AVBOB brand. And for BRAND et al, it’s confirmation that a brilliant strategy is behind all the best brands.

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