Adil Ismeer
Nov 24, 2010

A black sheep’s take on the Philips Bear

Adil Ismeer, account planner at BBH Asia-Pacific on bringing back the bear that shook slumbering Singaporeans awake, though one that is slightly more human.

Bring back the bear says Adil Ismeer of BBH
Bring back the bear says Adil Ismeer of BBH

Last month, a grainy video of a bear going through a rubbish bin was uploaded onto a Singaporean news website.

In true Singapore style, teams of environmental experts and police were deployed to the area immediately. They spent hours searching the area and the surrounding forest looking for the bear, hoping to protect it as well as the local residents.

What they did not know was that Philips Electronics had recently employed a local agency to create a guerrilla campaign for its shavers. It probably sounded like a stellar idea at the time; create a rumour about a hairy bear on the loose to launch a shaver. It sure worked well for those folks behind the Raffles Place ghost campaign.

The relevant authorities did not seem to see the humour or the marketing bravado behind the stunt. Of course, it was no laughing matter - considerable amounts of time and resource had been poured into searching for this bear as well as cordoning off the area. As a result, Philips is now being investigated for a public nuisance violation for which the maximum fine is S$1000.

Philips was quick to issue a public apology, together with a press statement from their PR agency explaining that the whole fiasco was due to their ‘mascot’ being mistaken for a real bear.

The real question for us marketers is, what should happen next? Should Philips accept the slap on its wrist and try to bury the entire episode? Should it throw out all of the effort and planning that went into its shaver launch?

Well, not necessarily. The main intent of this stunt was to generate publicity and on this front, it was immensely successful – it got nationwide coverage by all of the local agencies and it was even picked up internationally by BBC World and CNN. But contrary to the popular phrase, there is such a thing as bad publicity. So how can they get the public back on their side?

I think they should bring back the bear.

Every marketer craves that visual device that triggers fond recollections of his brand, and Philips by golly you’ve created it.

But don’t bring back the scary animal that scares the neighbours’ kids. Bring back a bear that’s a little more human. Perhaps he is now a sad bear sitting in the Philips office twiddling his thumbs with nothing to do. Or maybe he is a funny bear being chased through Orchard Road by tranquiliser wielding environmentalists. Or maybe he is the bear on Facebook posting pictures of happier times. There are dozens of stories that could be told about the bear, which could make for some incredible online and offline content.

But it shouldn’t be all fun and games. Philips would need to demonstrate that they are sincerely sorry about the ruckus they created. They could couple the reboot of their bear with a generous donation to the Singapore Zoo or the World Wildlife Fund. There are many programmes that allow for corporations to sponsor or ‘adopt’ animals. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Philips to adopt an endangered bear exhibit at the Night Safari?

That being said, it is quite likely that Philips’ agencies are hard at work on similar plans at this very moment. The bigger lesson for all of us as marketers is that whatever happens, however crazy the stunt is, there will always be another day.

It’s up to us to pick ourselves up, and get the dust off our shoulders.
Let’s hope the bear does.

To read about Philips bear stunt in Singapore, please click here.

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