What have they done to the Honey Monster?

Outing rubbish advertising is just like shooting fish in a barrel, especially with so much crap around these days polluting the airwaves. We've tried to keep a lid on our outbursts recently but office consensus is that we should go public on the nonsense that is the new Honey Monster makeover.

Mr Monster is undoubtedly an advertising icon, created by the legendary John Webster back in the day to sell some sugary breakfast cereal. Many famous commercials were made. Many boxes of sugary cereal were sold.

Now, we all know the advertising business has changed beyond all recognition since then but I think this new commercial is an excellent exemplar of some of the things that are wrong with our esteemed profession.

For starters, they've "updated" what was a great brand property. "Updating" means taking all the joy and charm out of the character and pandering to the PC brigade who might be concerned about how such products are advertised to children.

Hence we see Honey Monster transformed from a heroic, bumbling, clumsy, knockabout figure [the "embodiment of childish mayhem" aptly put by Campaign] into something what the press release has painfully laboured to describe as "more athletic, responsible and reflective". A reflective Honey Monster? Jesus wept.

It gets worse too. Apparently, the new Monster is inspired by Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. But, as far as I can tell, there's certainly no evidence of that judging by the new execution where the Honey Monster seems to be relegated to playing the bit-part role of a hairy extra.  The ad seems to be just a lot of kids straight out of central casting skipping around demonstrating a rather sanitised and cliched view of what "fun" constitutes totally unrelated to the breakfast cereal in question [water balloons, since you ask].

And is there anything less fun that the fact that they've even taken away Honey Monster's voice and replaced it with that a voiceover that lamely repeats the word "fun" several times? And to appeal to Mums and kids they've also ensured that the ad contains a Mum and loads of kids.

Rather than using Sendak as inspiration for the new Honey Monster they would have been far better off using Webster's old Honey Monster. What's happened is some sort of reverse shit alchemy where gold has been turned into base metal.

As you can see from the ad below, the interplay between Honey Monster and Henry McGee [as his 'mummy'] seems so much smarter and more appealing than the honeymonstrosity of this new ad. And who, from that generation, can forget the "Tell 'em about the honey, Mummy" line? Something still so memorable almost forty years on. Now the honey is relegated to a fleeting cut away shot in a jar before the obligatory 'child eating a bowl of cereal and really enjoying it' moment.

I know which ad my kids would much prefer and it's not the one that looks like an outtake from a CBeebies programme.

#FUNMONSTERFIED is the new hashtag.

#UNMONSTERFIED would be far more appropriate.




8 comments:

  1. Hasn't the honey monster been questioned under operation yew tree yet.

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  2. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you the difference between BEING fun and BEING TOLD to have fun.

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  3. So in a world where sugar is the perceived new evil, and child obesity and behavioural difficulties amongst children are at an all time high, you'd advocate sticking to the 1970s values and approach and 'not pandering to the PC brigade'. Are you the Dave Lee Travis of advertising living in nostalgic denial, when the rest of the world is evolving?

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  4. Thanks for stopping by, Anonymous number 3.

    The fact that this new Honey Monster commercial was taking the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck had completely passed us by.

    I think you're confusing change with evolution.

    Not all change is evolution. Not all change is for the better.

    In this instance, I'd strongly argue that this change of direction is a massive regression. A backward step that ultimately does the brand and the advertising business no favours.

    As far as I'm aware, in a world where sugar is the perceived new evil and child obesity is at an all time high, you are still allowed to advertise breakfast cereals to children.

    Why not do it in way that entertains rather patronises?

    To position the Honey Monster as being more 'athletic, responsible and reflective' is just vacuous marketing bullshit.

    This approach is also totally hypocritical, dishonest and lacking integrity as it blatantly but lamely tries to attach some 'healthy' lifestyle values to the brand.

    You can just imagine the conversations.

    "Let's make sure we show the kids being active"

    'Let's make sure we show the kids being happy and having a good time"

    "Let's make sure we feature an approving and empathetic mother"

    "Let's make sure we put a banana and a glass of orange juice on the table next to the bowl of cereal"

    Do people really think that if you do those things it'll make most Mums think favourably of the new "Honey Monster Puffs" brand values forget that it's still a sugary breakfast cereal that's being peddled?

    Anyway, it's heartening to see that we're not a lone voice in the wilderness of nostalgic denial. I can't put it better than Campaign did in this week's "Turkey Of The Week".

    "The Honey Monster was at his best embarrassing his 'mummy' - can we have him back, please?".

    Quite.

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  5. That was deliciously brutal Sell! Sell! (and rightly so).

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  6. Hi Vic,

    Alistair here. I was forwarded your blog, so as the creative responsible, I thought at least I would take up a right of reply.

    You make some good points. Thanks for your opinion. There's been a lot of those in the process of undertaking this project. Sugar Puffs was on the edge of being delisted. It simply wasn't selling. A product of a time when sugar was rife, women were accessories and smoking was apparently cool.

    The opinions of those who had previously bought Sugar Puffs told us why they stopped, giving proof to our guesses. We didn't sadly ask the opinions of advertising creative directors or freelance journalists at Campaign because although they are highly opinionated, they're more your Dorset Cereals eaters (3x the sugar of Honey Monster Puffs). Their opinion won't affect how it sells. A certain demographic of Mum's opinions however do matter. They didn't want Sugar Puffs for their kids. The product would have to change. And so it did. Less sugar, and a clear traffic light system on the pack. Four greens, one red (for sugar) against daily RDA. Mums could at least make an informed choice. Is it healthy? No. Is it healthier? Yes.

    Mums also didn't want a brand icon who smashed up the house in some sort of desperate bid to get his hands on sugar or honey. Sure kids may laugh, but Mums buy the product. Pester power is an advertising myth. Many concepts were tested to gauge public opinion around one thing - what would help the product sell, and what role should the Honey Monster have.

    Now you can argue that what we have created is the product of listening to too many opinions. A politically correct, blander change. But that merely reflects what's happened to the product. I don't see how that is disingenuous.
    It's not exactly our original vision, but so much these days is a compromise.

    Anyhow good luck with your current and future projects. Failing is an important part of creativity. But I will wait and see the sales figures before I decide whether that's the case here. Sell! Sell! matters to us too.

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  7. Hello Alistair

    *As a quick point of housekeeping, this blog isn't written exclusively by Vic, but by everyone at Sell! Sell!. Vic didn't write the original post in this case.

    Alistair, thanks for taking the time to come on here and respond. I mean that. The business needs more creatives who are prepared to stand up and take the lead, and to argue for their work. Fair play to you for that. (Through the lens of the internet that may come across as patronising, but it's meant totally sincerely.)

    It’s helpful in telling us some of the background to the new work, and for that reason is quite heartening to be honest, I'll come to why later.

    But firstly I think it's important we split out the product from the advertising here for a moment, conflating the two muddies the water in this instance, as our original post was about the advertising not the product.

    Let's look at the product first. I agree that Sugar Puffs were the product of a different time, before concerns about diet and widespread awareness of the dangers of too much sugar in our and our kid's diets. That's why the product wasn't selling. There was a problem with it.

    The product wasn't delivering what people wanted to buy or give to their kids. It was outdated. And really, it deserved to be failing. I think what they've done with the product itself (reducing the sugar) is a good thing, the smart thing. I also think the new name is good, it does two good things. It moves away from sugar. And it aligns the product/brand name more closely with the famous thing - the brand mascot.

    That's where research can be really helpful, to help find out (or confirm your instincts) as to why people are (or aren't) buying something, and for finding out what's important to customers in the category and in their decision-making.

    So all good so far. So much so that it makes me wonder why the biggest news, the important thing - that reduction in sugar content - wasn't communicated in the new advertising. That was clearly the barrier to consideration for a lot of people. cont'd…

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  8. Cont'd… What research is not very good at, is working out what to put into advertising creatively, what to make characters like, finding out what's funny or appealing, etc.. Research is just not very good at this. This is when research becomes really unhelpful.

    And that brings us into the advertising, the subject of the original post. There's a reason why Henry Ford's classic quote about research "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse" endures - because there is some truth in it.

    There's no real reason why just because the product was changed, the Honey Monster should become more bland and less characterful. The character of the Monster was the one real diamond amongst the ageing brand assets here. The change is just the result of paying too much attention to what people say they want in research.

    But look, I can see how this happens, totally. I've seen it happen. No one gets fired for following the research. So much of advertising and marketing development these days is people pointing at charts to show why they did what they did. If everything can be logically argued, then no one can be wrong. It's the opposite of 'daring to fail'. It's a plague on the business.

    This whole affair is kind of a lesson in the use of research – where it's helpful, and where it isn't. But really this is good news for advertising creatives. Because if there ever comes a time when listening to research groups and simply doing what they ask for does produce great advertising, then the business won't need the instincts and talents of good people any more.

    But like you say, the results are the proof of the pudding. Time will tell if the rejuvenation of Sugar/Honey Monster Puffs works. However I think it's safe to say that if it does arrest its slide, it will be because they got the product right at last. Thanks again for stopping by Alistair, and good luck to you in the future too.

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