Why I went naked to raise my company profile

Joanna Gardiner, the entrepreneur who appeared in the first full-frontal ad to hit the UK, tells how going nude did it for her business

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How far would you go to promote your brand? Starring in a 60-second film wearing nothing but a smile might be going a step too far for even the boldest of entrepreneurs. Not Joanna Gardiner, and it would seem that her daring move has paid off – the said campaign lifted sales of natural skincare range Elave by a staggering 500% within three weeks of its launch.

Gardiner took over the running of the £2.6m-turnover family business Ovelle Pharmaceuticals, home of Elave, the number one sensitive-skincare brand in Ireland, in 2000. The business has performed exceptionally well under her command, manufacturing creams and lotions for Unicef and the UN as well as selling to the public online and via several Boots stores.

Taking the natural next step after cracking the home market, the promotional campaign was intended to acquaint a global audience with a brand which, like the stars in the ad, has “nothing to hide”.

And it certainly has. An instant YouTube sensation, it’s now been seen by around two million people worldwide, giving the brand a cult status and catapulting the mother-of-three to fame among the movers and shakers of the marketing industry.

Filmed on location in New Zealand, the  ‘Nothing to Hide’ campaign satirises the way beauty products are typically advertised.

“The ad is a parody of the scientific skincare ad, where very academic, beautiful people are doing very vague scientific tests, sending the message to the consumer that the products are proven scientifically to work,” says Gardiner – except in this case there isn’t a lab coat in sight. The  ‘scientists’  – including the voluptuous blonde presenter and Gardiner herself – are all naked. “The point being that we’ve nothing to hide. It’s not nakedness for the sake of it, and I hope people won’t see it like that.” And while there is nudity, the content is not explicitly sexual,  “not in a page three girl on the bonnet of a car kind of way – there’s probably more sexual content in a music video”, she adds.

She concedes that the nudity is intended to hook people in, but says there’s a lot more to it than that.  “It had to be challenging because we’re a small company trying to make a big impression. It’s an intrigue, you should be watching going  ‘why in God’s name are they all naked?’  and you’re only really given the punchline at the end”  – the pay-off being that the natural Elave range contains none of the  “unnecessary”  chemicals commonly found in skincare products, which she believes are partly to blame for the sharp increase in eczema cases in the past few years.

Raising awareness of this issue is something that Gardiner feels extremely passionate about, and she believes that appearing in the ad herself was  “the ultimate execution of that passion”. However, she admits that baring all would have been a step too far, so a laptop was strategically placed to spare her blushes. She promises that an equally challenging print campaign will follow, but those still keen to satisfy their curiosity can visit the company’s website at elave.co.uk.

Of course, Joanna Gardiner’s not the first entrepreneur to put herself out front. Here some of the best-known exponents of the art illustrate what personal endorsement can do:

<strong>Victor Kiam</strong>
‘Doing a Victor Kiam’ is now a commonly known phrase for a customer that becomes an owner. “I liked it so much, I bought the company” is a soundbite so cheesy it’s hard to imagine it being said in an accent that’s not American and a decade that wasn’t the 1980s. However, it is probably the most effective self-endorsement of all time. Because by the time of his death in 2001 Kiam had turned Remington, which he bought from the Sperry Corporation in 1979, into a billion dollar business. He became so rich that he bought US football team the New England Patriots as well as several other businesses – not bad from a man who started out selling Coca-Cola on the sidewalks. Perhaps ‘doing a Victor Kiam’ should be re-appropriated as the phrase for making loads of money after appearing in your own adverts.

<strong>Richard Branson</strong>
Glamour models, a beard and woolly jumper – the perfect combo for making a splash. Richard Branson cornered the market in embarrassing publicity stunts. Prepared to do almost anything to get attention, he’s dressed in a ‘nude’ suit, a jump suit, and almost any suit you care to mention. It’s a great tactic when it works, not so bad when it doesn’t. Throwing water over a TV host is dismissed as being “just Richard” by his press office; refusing to fly the Ashes urn back to the UK on an incorrect take on its origins makes him look madcap. It gets column inches though, and for Branson that’s ultimately what it’s about – get the brand out there, show your loveable human side, and let them give you flak as it only reflects on you (which people will forgive) and not the business.

<strong>Bernard ‘Bootiful’ Matthews</strong>
The ruddy-faced Norfolk farmer won a place in our hearts and kitchens by fronting TV ads in the 1980s. The company produces seven million turkeys a year and a successful frozen food range. But it came under attack when its Turkey Twizzlers were slated by TV chef Jamie Oliver and, more seriously, when avian flu was found at one of its plants. In a bid to halt the slump, Matthews sent an open letter ad to the Daily Mirror defending his company. “It’s my name on the packet,” he said, adding that he would never let meat on to shelves if he thought there was anything wrong with it. But major job cuts followed a reported sales drop of 40%. In a bid to boost its health credentials the company has enlisted former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies to front new TV ads. Proof if you need it that fronting your own ads isn’t always bootiful.

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