Waverly Wants You to Choose Their Next Ad Campaign

By BKV in Design on July 16th, 2010

Hey, everyman: You've been promoted to Creative Director!
Welcome to the new egalitarian reality of online research.

More and more brands are tapping the low-cost online tools and giving anonymous site visitors a vote in their advertising. Sure, email surveys are an affordable alternative to focus groups. But is this a reliable/advisable move for a brand?

Waverly fabrics, stalwart of patterned textiles, has joined the fray. Their email survey arrived this morning with the subject line above: "Waverly Wants You to Choose Their Next Ad Campaign"

The short email survey arrived today, asking me to select my favorite new execution for the brand's "Waverly World" campaign.

I'd like to believe this sophisticated targeting, a sneaky move to tap my creative brilliance. But common sense reminds me I visited the Waverly website recently, while contemplating an unlikely girly-room update for my moody 13-year-old.

The e-mail survey innocently asks: will I choose a favorite ad execution?
Weigh in with my two cents? Dude, no problem. I'm chock full of opinions. This will be the easiest thing I do today.

One click through the email serves up a concise selection of six campaign concepts.
I do applaud Waverly for keeping it short and sweet.

The campaign wraps regular, everyday objects in signature Waverly prints. It's a lighthearted antidote for a weary world - an effort to sugarcoat the mundane in a colorful, upbeat veneer -- a reminder that an optimistic (imagine a world papered with Vera Bradley-like abandon) attitude can help defeat modern negativity.

I'm instantly a fan. I'm ready to weigh in.

Half of the ads depict the cheerful, cheeky Waverly prints on Adirondack chairs, tree trunks, and the Statue of Liberty. I'm nodding. I'm with them. I get it. I think I like it.

Waverley Design Concepts

Then things go all wonky.

Suddenly I'm face to face with Waverly print-covered dumpsters, porta-potties,
even. . . how does one say it gracefully in mixed company: urinals.

Waverley Design Concepts

Ladies and gentlemen, that's where they lost me.

This innocent exercise in brand elasticity had stretched to the breaking point. And although I understand completely where the art director was going - these executions raised my hackles in ways even I can't completely understand.

So I did the only responsible thing. I voted for the less offensive Adirondack chairs and get back about my business.

But I'm left with this terrifying question: what if most of the email recipients simply adore the Waverly urinals? Vote for them, accept them whole-cloth as a perfect expression of Waverly-ness? Is this progress for the brand?

These urinal and latrine executions are the kind of potty humor spotlighted in every
wide-eyed Portfolio Center graduate's portfolio - ads not unrelated to the requisite
"OMG-can-you-believe-I'm-actually-showing-you-this-one" ha-ha condom spreads so many 20-somethings parade about. Waverly has stooped to the lowest form of
bathroom humor.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe these "edgy" (poo-poo, pee-pee) ads really will attract younger, more juvenile customers. They certainly got my attention - and even inspired a blog post, so they must be doing something right.

I suspect these extreme examples were included just to validate that you can only push the concept so far. We can only hope.

But here's what I'm left asking. Is the opinion of the people truly the best force to use to shape a brand? In today's wired reality, must the majority always rule?

I question the underlying premise that using email research to anonymous site visitors is a wise move. Note that I didn't even purchase from the site - just visited it. So now I'm instantly qualified to weigh in on the creative?

I supposed one could argue that since Waverly is at least in my considered set, that alone qualifies me. But there's a difference in understanding an audience and in letting them make creative decisions by majority rule. . .if that's how the results will be used.

I'm curious beyond all reason how the findings of this survey will be applied to the new campaign. Let's all keep our eyes open for the cheeriest urinals on planet earth.