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Unpacking Surreal's Ad Campaign: Expert Opinions and Consumer Insights Revealed

Olga Keating
Market Research Manager
Every once in a while, you come across an ad campaign that genuinely makes you happy. The fake celebrity campaign by Surreal cereal is one of those. It is clever, funny and different.
It caused a stir on social media, polarising the experts. Some appreciated the humour, wit and ingenuity, while others criticised it for taking a shortcut and predicted the real celebrities' lawyers getting in touch. Some people in the creative scene felt that the ads not focusing on the USP was a misstep.
Source - Surreal https://www.linkedin.com/company/surrealuk/
This campaign takes famous people's names, finds their name doppelgangers in regular life and uses them to endorse their product. Serena Willliams, Ronaldo, Michael Jordan, Dwayne Johnson – all real people but not actually the ones we think of…

Performance

It is all well and good reading social media comments by keyboard warriors and while some of them make good points the bottom line only cares about the numbers. So without further ado let's see what actual consumers had to say.
Source - Surreal https://www.linkedin.com/company/surrealuk/
METHODOLOGY

Stimuli:
the images of the posters used in this article.
Target: A national representative sample of Brits between 18 and 65 y.o.
Research solution: Visual Test — ready-to-use research solution by Fastuna.
When looking at the overall scores Dwayne Johnson and the Serena Williams ads performed similarly. 61% and 63%, respectively, the Serena ad is just into the green zone, i.e. 'Above Average' according to our Fastuna norms.
Banner with Dwayne Johnson - Fastuna's research results
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Breaking this down into more detail we can see that the Dwayne ad is not clear at all. People are confused by it which affects how they perceive the ad altogether. Even some of those who liked the ad didn't get it, thinking it was the Dwayne:
"Simple, great tagline. It makes me intrigued by the cereal. Dwayne Johnson could only love a great cereal right?" - Male, 24
Banner with Serena Willliams - Fastuna's research results
Half of the respondents didn't understand what the ad was trying to do, using people with the same name as the celebrities. Which resulted in the ad being perceived as bland or simply confusing.
"Quite boring and bland. Using a famous actor's name instead of the item being marketed. Lack of product type, name and information." - Male 50
The above sentiment was mirrored by David Agustyn on LinkedIn when he suggested that while the idea is great the joke is diluted in the copy.
There were also those in the creative community who criticised the campaign for failing to include the USP and as a result these banners could fit any other cereal brand.
The lack of messaging about the product's USPs and benefits was also echoed in the consumer responses.
"There isn't enough information given about the actual cereal, apart from the fact that it's Dwayne Johnson's favourite." - Female, 65

Brand link

However, if the goal of the campaign was raising brand awareness of the new product by creating a memorable campaign with the potential to go viral this could be the right route. But is the compromise necessary? Could Surreal have their cereal and eat it? :) This is down to the creative minds. Including the product benefits into the ads without compromising on the simplicity of messaging.
But what about the brand link? How do people feel this banner fits with the brand statement: 'The world is serious enough. Why does breakfast have to be?'
68% see the ad campaign is in line with the brand statement as they understand it
This is a fairly good result, so what is the problem?
The problem is very clear. That the ad is not clear. Many respondents didn't understand the joke and that the celebrity was fake. We confirmed that by asking a simple additional question: Who is endorsing the brand? And a whopping 52% and 59% of respondents in Dwayne and Serena ads respectively, thought these were real celebrities.

Lawyer's ad

Then to address the backlash on social media Surreal saw a great opportunity to strike back with humour yet again. Or was it all a plan? :) Okay, they said. Legally kosher is what you want, legally kosher is what you'll get. And what they produced was brilliantly dull, releasing a series of banners as their lawyers would have written it. Void of any potentially controversial messages and soul these ads advertise Surreal cereals in the safest way possible.
In the best style of trolling Surreal then produced a series of banners as though written by their legal team. 'Someone you may or may not have heard of has eaten our cereal'
Source - Surreal https://www.linkedin.com/company/surrealuk/
With an even lower overall score of 60% which is 'Below Average' according to our Fastuna norms, this ad was even more misunderstood. It scored the lowest of three on Clarity - 66%.
"It's not very eye-catching and doesn't make much sense. Who could have taken it and why?" - Male, 36
Source - Surreal https://www.linkedin.com/company/surrealuk/
As in the case with the fake celebrity campaign, those who understood this and liked it mention the lack of product benefits. And this is the worst case scenario of what not clearly communicating your product benefits can result in.
"It is clear the ad is for cereal and it has humour to it which is what draws attention and its uniqueness. The only thing is, I'm not sure the writing is relevant. What is special about this cereal? What flavour is it? It didn't give me a reason to look more into it, go and find it in a shop or want to try it." - Female, 23

Bottom line

With all the existing clarity issues these campaigns stand out. The ideas are undeniably great and the brand personality has so much potential for great creative.
As mentioned at the start of this article, the bottom line only cares about the numbers. Despite some of the average low scores the main one being purchase intent—all three banners show an 'Above Average' result for Desire to Try / Purchase. At the end of the day, awareness has been raised, no serious damage was done and the majority of consumers are still open to try or buy Surreal cereals.
So even though the fake celebrity and the lawyer's copy campaigns went over half of the consumers' heads, Surreal is still an underdog who creatively overcame a challenge of not having millions to spend on hiring a real celebrity. They are a new brand after all. Great things will never be everyone's cup of tea. But perhaps with a bit more tweaking next time the same brilliant message and the humour in it can reach a wider audience.
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