A Lesson in being bold…from a rodent

November 26, 2019
Andy Bothwell

Sometimes in life – and work – reminders about how to be successful come from the unlikeliest of sources.

In the business we call comms, it’s often easy to forget the power of being bold. From an agency point of view, we are often beholden to clients and the restrictions they place on our unabated creativity. Granted, this is often for necessary reasons of legislator issues, licensing or simply brand tone of voice.

But it’s no secret that, all too often, we find ourselves disappointed at clients’ unwillingness to ‘go big’. Especially when we see so many examples of how, when other companies grasp the nettle, the results can be amazing – just think of Cadburys and its drum-playing gorilla or, to use an example from Performance’s main industry, Elon Musk sent one of his Tesla cars into space.

This week, the PR world was served a lesson in being bold by a 16-foot skiing marmot.

Firstly, let’s clear this up – a marmot (not to be confused with a marmoset) is a large rodent found in parts of North America, Asia, Russia and the French Alps.

It is not often to be found skiing, to be fair, but that’s another issue.

The particular marmot in question can currently be found gracing the Hampshire town of Alton, as its main Christmas light display.

Whilst being the town in which this writer and Performance colleague Jane Cain grew up and still call home, Alton is a small-ish market town that – being brutally honest – is not likely to be among the premier destination spots for Christmas shoppers this winter.

It doesn’t have the big department stores and only a handful of recognisable retail brand names.
But, in what has turned out to be a master stroke of publicity for the town by its council, people are flocking to the place thanks to the unusual replacement for the more traditional Christmas tree.

Alton and Marmite the Marmot – so called because he so definitively split opinion among the townsfolk – made acres of regional and national press. The toothy, festive rodent has been featured in the pages of the Sun, Telegraph, Times and Mail and starred in news bulletins across BBC Breakfast, Sky and ITV.

He’s had his own conversation slots on the BBC radio shows of Jeremy Vine and Zoe Ball, as well as the holy grail of <chorus of angels singing> the BBC Radio 4 paper review section.

If the objective of Alton Town Council was to publicise the town and bring people in during the festive shopping period, then this parochial little spot just schooled us all.

And, happily, it seems that this was the aim. A spokesman for ATC said: “The idea behind Alton Town Council’s marmot was quite simple; to provide a talking point, bring a smile to people’s faces, particularly the children and bring people into the town over the festive period.”

Like I said, Marmite has not been embraced by everyone in the Alton locale. Comments on social media have included the likes of:

“I just don’t understand! Whatever it is, it has no relevance to Christmas, it’s embarrassing and just plain ugly. I struggled to like the Christmas hat we had last year but this is another low. I always love the Christmas lights that are put up around the assembly rooms each year and enjoy taking photos of that area but I won’t be this year.”

“What is this for? Is it supposed to be Christmassy? Looks awful.”

“I’m sorry but this looks awful and cheap and tacky and does not suit this town and looks out of place, it looks like something that should be in a shopping centre with other plastic tat.”

The point here – and the lesson to all who want to achieve cut through with creative ideas – is to understand that, by being bold, you’ll never please everyone or appeal to 100% of the audience.

And you’ve just got to be ok with that.

Someone, somewhere within Alton Town Council, had the gumption to be different enough to divide opinion. But, in doing so, had faith that the resulting talking point would meet the objective of raising the profile of the town.

As an amusing aside, Marmite the Marmot’s headline sponsor is the local branch of SpecSavers so the haters’ headlines write themselves… the sponsorship equivalent of ‘come at me, bro…’

Bravo, I say. Bravo.


Tags: pr, xmas,

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