Blogs & Comment

Tips from a blank beer bottle cap

Leo Burnett Toronto head Judy John talks about One Show winning with James Ready and other brand lessons from the budget beer


Last week, Leo Burnett Toronto added to its trophy case as the only Canadian shop to bring home a pencil from the 2011 One Show Awards in New York. It’s no surprise the haul of Gold, Silver and Bronze Pencils came care of budget beer brand James Ready campaign, an awards darling since its launch in 2007.

Specifically, the industry hardware was for the “James Ready Blank Cap Recall,” a lo-fi promotion created out of a packaging mishap last June. The brand usually prints words of wisdom on the back of its beer bottle caps and labels, offering fans bon-mots and advice for saving beer money. However, there was a mix up at the bottling plant and more than 2 million caps went out blank. Instead of ignoring it or simply offering up a straight-faced apology, the agency took to Facebook within days of the first complaints, asking drinkers to send in their blank caps or pictures of their blank caps, in exchange for a goofy James Ready mystery gift, like a vintage hockey card, plastic dinosaur or a pair of dish washing gloves.

Random gifts in the mail aside, the really impressive aspect of this campaign was how quickly the agency and client reacted to the bottle-cap curveball and parlayed it into another way to engage the brand’s biggest fans. It’s a homegrown illustration of the “365 strategy” Contagious mag’s Nick Parish talked about in a Toronto presentation last week, where brands need to be actively looking for opportunities to engage their audience and be able to move quickly.

I spoke with Leo Burnett Toronto CEO and chief creative officer Judy John about the importance of agility to the Bottle Cap Recall campaign’s success and what lessons  she’ll take from it beyond beer.

How important is it for brands to be nimble with idea execution and not just focused on the precious, traditional ad campaign?

Judy John: It is so important. It’s about managing the long and short-term. Long term you it’s important to know where your brand is going and what you’ll be doing in some structured way, but certainly the way media is now you have to be flexible and have some level of agility when things come up, to be relevant and current. Everything is out there, people comment on it, and it’s happening right now, not a month from now. It really comes down to understanding the brand, your purpose and what you’re trying to do.

It’s one thing to say agility is important and quite another to actually make it happen. What are some keys to getting this done, aside from having the perfect client?

Judy Johns: The problem isn’t coming up with the ideas, it’s more about the fear a lot of clients have about managing these things that have to happen quickly. Sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision and you just have to roll with it. Sure, if you had a month to go through everything, dot all the I’s and cross the T’s, it might not have any issues. Clients are also very concerned with how people will react to things and the reality is sometimes you just have to let go. In the social sphere, you have to know that people might say bad things but you have to manage it and embrace what you get. If you hold on too tightly, too often you’ll never get anything done. By the time you make a move the opportunity is gone.