Print ads can still get people talking, as Stabilo’s ads highlighting remarkable women prove

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Background

I recently rediscovered some of my GCSE English Lit novels. They’re barely legible. Covered in scrawls and every other word highlighted. Who knew you were only meant to highlight the important stuff?

Apparently the world’s largest supplier of highlighter pens, that’s who.

The Big Idea

The campaign by Stabilo ‘Highlight the Remarkable’ uses its pens to highlight (get it?) extraordinary, otherwise ‘invisible’ women throughout history.

From Lise Meitner, discoverer of nuclear fission, to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and Edith Wilson, the First Lady who assumed her husband’s presidential responsibilities after he was paralysed by a stroke.

Creating simple print ads to generate an earned social campaign, and using its pens to not only highlight, but rewrite the past.

What They Did

Each print ad features black-and-white, historic photography with a highlighter running through it, directly to the remarkable women. Bypassing the men, central to the image, that history had focused on.

All sounds a bit deep and worthy for a pen ad? The execution is kept so simple and isn’t ashamed that it’s also trying to sell a product that, for me, it actually works. In fact I’m sure many of you have already seen these images. 

The campaign originally started earlier this year as print ads in Germany but has since reached the wider world thanks to winning Gold at Cannes, and being shared and praised on social media, resulting in the ads earning branded conversations in their own right.

Review

Sometimes I think we over complicate things. It’s a highlighter. So highlight interesting things with it. We’re selling a product. So show the product. I look at some creative campaigns and think ‘what the hell has that got to do with your brand or product?’ Social purpose for social purpose sake.

This, however, doesn’t feel like it’s just jumping on a social good bandwagon. It makes sense. And judging by the reaction I’ve seen on Twitter, people seem to agree (albeit predominantly those in the media industry – but they use pens right?). 

The idea brings together the product – a mundane, everyday product at that – and the current cultural climate, making Stabilo relevant (interestingly by talking about the past).

And Stabilo – from what I know of it – is the market leader in highlighters. So a campaign that builds emotional engagement with the brand is the right move. Customers are already pretty clued up on the products (they highlight words and stuff!), which is why it’s already number one. Therefore building the brand, will eventually build loyalty. Aldi and Lidl do their own highlighter pens now you know…

In Hindsight

On social media people have already started to highlight their own remarkable women, past and present, for inclusion. Surely this is an opportunity to keep the conversation going and create the next round of executions outside of Germany. Who else should be highlighted in history?

One question I’ve been asked though is ‘can it be considered an earned campaign if it’s a print ad?’. Well, it’s earned my attention. So I guess so.

Fearless Girl started life as a print ad brief and more recently KFC and British Airways have mastered the art of the well-timed, culturally relevant print ad. So should we be looking in PR to start an idea with ‘pay for’ not ‘pray for’? Perhaps not as our work should be good enough to earn attention in its own right. But all good ideas have to start somewhere.

Simple and striking. This is creativity worth highlighting.

OUR SCORE
Gemma Vardon

Gemma Vardon

  • Executive director, creative
  • Golin

Read Gemma Vardon's bio and content

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