James Hurman examines the 2024 WARC Awards for Effectiveness Cultural Impact category Bronze winner, ‘Unexpected Encounters’ for Lacoste by BETC Paris, in the sixth installment of his EFF BOMB series.

James Hurman

Sometimes it’s just so damn simple.

The first time I saw the work was at Lions in 2023. I was cruising the winners lists and had to double-take. Wasn’t this just a picture of some people in Lacoste gear with a great big logo on it?

Lacoste poster spread out across both sides and around the corner of a brick building

Lacoste ads featuring people wearing the brands clothing with the brand logo displayed in the middle of each image

Then – click. It’s a young guy and an old lady wearing the same Lacoste polo. OMG that’s so true, I thought. The most unalike people often wear Lacoste. The brand bridges culture in a unique way.

Late-teens Latina skater guy and 5-year old Asian kid. Cool young girl and grumpy dad-bod guy. Microloc black Gen-Y and old white codger.

Truth.

The first book I read when I started in advertising was Jon Steel’s ‘Truth, Lies and Advertising’. It was written in the 1990’s, it’s still brilliant, and you should read it if you’re starting in advertising in the 2020s. At some point, he used a Hector Hugh Munro quote: “in baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse”.

Jon meant that advertising is more powerful when, rather than giving the consumer everything on a plate, you leave a little piece of the puzzle for them to solve.

They get that ‘aah – yeah now I get it – that’s cool’ moment. They get a little dopamine hit. They participate in the ad as opposed to being communicated at. That participation means greater and deeper attention paid to the ad.

Small-minded marketers worry that this kind of advertising won’t be understood. It’s ‘too clever’, they say, thinking of their customers as having Bidenesque cognition.

David Ogilvy said “the customer is not a moron, she’s your wife”, in response to all the blatant, rational, over-explanatory advertising of the time. He did an ad for the Hathaway Shirt Company featuring a man in one of their shirts. The man had an eyepatch. Why? Because it let people imagine why. There must, after all, be a story behind it. People were intrigued, not confused. They sold a tonne of shirts.

Lacoste’s ‘Unexpected Encounters’ is a triumph of just the right amount of intrigue. It only takes a second to see the message, and when you do it’s delightful and it resonates as being (in the old words of McCann-Erickson) a ‘truth well told’.

There’s a lovely chart in the effectiveness paper showing Lacoste’s timeline of ubiquity across so many corners of culture:

Timeline of Lacoste's ubiquity across culture

There’s also a bunch of sub-sensical waffle about the strategy being ‘to celebrate inclusiveness and positive connections transcending differences’. Which may have been the case or may have been a way to appeal to judges’ debilitating obsession with purpose. Judging by the current state of France’s divisions, I’m not sure the campaign has succeeded at bringing the country back together.

But that doesn’t matter.

For starters, it did advertising’s important first job of being noticed and enjoyed. It earned 816M impressions and 108M video views. It smashed Lacoste’s norms with 68% of people saying they liked the campaign. And it had double the correct brand attribution of Lacoste’s average – putting it in Kantar’s top 10% of correctly branded ads.

That enjoyment happened because the work showed that, in perhaps the most tiny, unimportant way possible, we’re all a smidgeon similar in that we quite like having a little crocodile embroidered somewhere on our person. It did not cause world peace. But it did remind a shit-tonne of people that Lacoste is so cool and timeless that everyone likes it. That’s clever, and much more so than trying to mend the whole of society with a $2M ad budget.

Because of that simple insight and enjoyable execution, the work caused positive changes in the way people felt about the brand. Consideration increased by 14 points – and even more among the 16-34 year olds Lacoste was trying to bring into the brand. Lacoste was seen as more unique, modern, creative and authentic by those who saw the campaign. Purchase intent rose 5% among all people, and 15% among young consumers.

That led to significant commercial impact – both immediately (polo shirt sales grew 30% in France, and sandals sold out after the campaign) and over the long term (overall sales revenue grew 26% year-on-year, and almost a quarter of new customers in 2022 were under 25 years old).

The campaign pulls on a number of important effectiveness threads.

It’s broadly targeted in terms of both the lead media (outdoor) and the creative idea (it’s based on a solid universal insight – that Lacoste is for everyone).

It uses Lacoste’s distinctive ‘crocodile’ asset in an elegant way that adds to the idea.

It’s creative. It’s not just another ad showing the clothes. The might-have-been-boring idea that Lacoste is for everyone is delivered with an idea that makes the most of it. It won a gold Cannes Lion and a yellow D&AD Pencil.

It’s emotional. The idea is not based on any rational, functional nonsense about the product – it’s designed to make us feel appreciation for the ubiquitous cool of the brand. It tells a story with a single image.

Finally, it’s just so damn simple. One clean idea. No words. No unnecessary detail. Just a truth, a picture, and a brand back in growth.