As Joe Wicks (pictured, top) rocketed into popular culture, becoming a national treasure as well as our (international) PE teacher, there is one thing he is at pains to stress: this was not an overnight success. But with all the magic ingredients in place – a great message (health), a great product (Joe), a clear need (kids getting fit) and an unbelievable price point (free) – why did it take Covid-19 to give Joe his "Jamie’s school dinners" moment? And what other "perfect" ideas sit idle on the drawing tables of agencies and brands that are in need of revisiting?
What might have been wrong before may now find the timing is absolutely right.
Back in November 2019, Joe was out on the road, relentlessly driving his agenda to improve fitness in schools. At the time, he was working as an ambassador for Children in Need, promoting the "Big Morning Move" campaign.
Have you heard of it? Probably not. Yet this was without doubt a high-water mark for Joe in his restless four-year pursuit to get kids fitter and, by extension, happier. All the ingredients were there – a noble cause, a charismatic leader, positivity and energy, a captive and engaged audience, and an army of healthcare advisors, social scientists, parents and teachers endorsing his mission. And yet… it failed to ignite. Why?
It comes down to one small but hugely significant difference – that of a genuine need versus idealised need, and how the contextual environment around us plays a huge part in influencing our mindsets.
Both Jamie’s and Joe’s messages were agreeable: school dinners should be nutritious and kids should do exercise in school. But whereas Jamie addressed a genuine national concern about health (certainly back in 2005), the reality is Joe’s PE message simply didn’t connect with parents. They could easily rationalise away the need ("My child does enough exercise at school – they run around the playground").
But not now. With children metaphorically caged at home for 24 hours a day due to Covid-19, getting exercise has become a genuine need. Our mindsets have changed – turning a message and product that was always right into a "must-have" at 9am every day.
And Joe is not alone. A number of products that solved a genuine need, but that could not break through, are now in huge demand:
- Cambridge Masks – a boutique, design-led UK manufacturer of face masks. Previously positioned as a proposition on pollution, it's now fully focused on health.
- Collaboration tools such as Zoom and Mural allow people to connect and collaborate in new ways. Virtual meetings were faddy before, but are now established in the new normal and our families and children are using them.
- Sainsbury’s SmartShop – completely till-free shopping trialled in January 2019 but only now really taking off as customers are motivated to try new ways to buy groceries.
- Online shopping delivery – with Tesco achieving one million online delivery slots per week, posting significant growth from older demographics who have been heavily encouraged to shop online, often for the first time.
But this list should be much longer.
The world has changed and products or messages that failed before may be ready to shine. The race to reconfigure the future is on, but the answers may be in the past as much as the future.
Every agency has a showreel of ideas that never happened. Companies up and down the land have cupboards full of ideas that "were ahead of the market" or where the strength of feeling wasn’t quite there. We’ve worked on many brilliant products that never quite reached the market, but might now be met with a completely different reaction.
We have been forced to rethink our regular fixed mindsets and reappraise many of the things we did by default. Such as allowing our kids’ education and sport to be managed by schools, shopping for food largely on whims or popping on that train to attend that meeting.
And while the innumerate products that were once in the right place with the right message at the right time now find that not to be the case, rather than start from scratch, revisit the ones that got away. Get them out. Dust them off. Revisit the need and reconsider whether our mindsets have now shifted from "nice to have" to "need it now".
And, if that is the case, you may well have just struck gold – a bit like our Joe.
Phil Blackmore is owner and creative director at Create Health