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19 . 03 . 19

How Stabilo used print ads to ‘highlight the remarkable’

Words by: Print Power
A clever print campaign for the German pen-maker, by DDB Dusseldorf, applied a rational message in an emotive context – and turbo-charged the debate around gender equality

The power of print at a glance

  • Don’t try to communicate six different messages in a single print ad – or you’ll lose your audience
  • Analogue solutions make sense when you want to add emotional resonance to analogue products
  • Well-crafted, beautiful print advertising can catalyse discussions online – in this case, it led to millions of Twitter impressions

Take a moment to scan the Cannes Lions winners for 2018 and you’ll spot a few familiar names: McDonald’s, Microsoft and Apple, to name a few. But among those big ’uns is a smattering of more modest brands, too – including shoe polish manufacturer Kiwi and German pen-maker Stabilo.

Great ideas, it seems, speak for themselves.

With its ‘Highlight the Remarkable’ campaign, Stabilo turned a plug for a highlighter pen into something that empowered and inspired women everywhere, expertly attaching itself to the ongoing gender equality debate. It also picked up a few gongs along the way, with wins at LIA and EPICA, plus Grand Prix victories at Eurobest.

The campaign’s success is easily explained, reckons Vera Ickert, senior art director at DDB Dusseldorf, the agency that created the work. “Find a socially relevant topic, bigger than the product itself. Then let the product interact with this topic. Let it do what it does best. Turn your product into a means through which customers can connect with a bigger ideal.”

Relevancy is king (or queen)

Gender equality is a hotter topic than ever, as we saw during International Women’s Day, when a conveyer belt of brands queued up to tackle endemic discrimination. But discrimination, says DDB Dusseldorf’s senior copywriter, Teresa Berude, is just one half of the narrative. Disregarded female triumphs are the other.

“We thought about how we could legitimately participate in and add something meaningful to the gender equality debate. All too often, women in history have been upstaged – their work and successes not mentioned.

“So, they have never become a part of our collective consciousness – unlike their male counterparts. We wanted to give these women and their stories the recognition they deserved. And we did this by, in the truest sense of the word, highlighting them – with a Stabilo Boss.”

Turn your product into a means through which customers can connect with a bigger ideal
Vera Ickert
Senior art director, DDB Dusseldorf

The beautiful print advertising campaign comprises a series of historic black and white photographs. These group shots are populated overwhelmingly by men – who are either in the foreground or at the centre of each shot.

But simple strokes of a yellow pen shifted the emphasis firmly to the unsung, remarkable women hidden in each frame: NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, US First Lady Edith Wilson and Austrian-Swedish physicist Lise Meitner.

Telling the product story

Highlighter pens are used to mark-up important things, right? Typically words or passages in printed and written texts. Everyone is aware of the benefit of such pens – even if they only remember them from their student days, says Ickert.

“For our client, Stabilo, we wanted to marry this rational benefit with an emotional one, by making it about more than just the pen. We wanted it to be about an attitude – and to have a purpose.”

Thus, the beautiful print advertising treatment combined visuals that cleverly spoke to the ongoing, emotive gender equality debate taking place in the mainstream media, with a copy line (‘Highlight the Remarkable’) that was a pure expression of the core product benefit. And the way these elements interacted was what made it so compelling.

‘Highlight the Remarkable’ turbo-charged the central message, and prompted people to share and discuss the ads on social media – with some even suggesting and celebrating other remarkable women on their own accounts.

The campaign recorded a massive 15 million Twitter impressions – and interaction rates of 27%. In total, Stabilo was mentioned 97.4% more often than it had been before the campaign. What’s even more noteworthy is the fact that not only did this campaign go viral for a short duration but has stayed extremely relevant on multiple channels across the internet with at least 4,100 mentions every day.

The right channel for the right message

It’s significant that the brand and agency chose to tell this story in print.

An analogue execution just made sense. After all, the Stabilo Boss pen is an analogue tool used to mark-up physical written or printed texts.

But it was also a nod to the importance of the story they wanted to tell and the trustworthiness they needed to impart – at a time when cries of ‘fake news’, most often directed at digital media, are so familiar.

Concludes Berude: “The simplicity of this campaign was key. If you try to tell six different messages in a single print ad, you’ll lose the audience’s attention. And sadly, all too often, marketers and advertisers forget this.”