See the Spot: Why Vaseline Chose Lips of Clay to Make a Point

Trans-Atlantic Work From Via Agency Extends Product to North America

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How do you do create a classic packaged-goods demo without boring people? Unilever and the Via Agency are banking on sending two giant pairs of clay lips from the Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean beaches of Italy.

Vaseline's lips of clay back a rollout of Vaseline Lip Therapy, previously sold mainly in the U.K., to North America. Though BBH handles Vaseline globally, Unilever tapped The Via Agency, a small shop based in Portland, Me., that handles Klondike and other project work for the global giant.

The digital campaign, launching this week in the U.S., was used in the U.K. this winter, marking Via's first real global project for the company, and one that could find its way into more countries pending U.S. results, said Kathleen Dunlop, the U.S.-based global brand director.

Regardless of ultimate commercial scope, the giant clay lips of course are already well traveled. The idea was to subject them to the same elements as real human lips.

"The brief was really simple," Ms. Dunlop said. "Bring the healing power of Vaseline to your lips. But we needed to do it in a short, sharp, very efficient way, because we knew we weren't going to have a lot of media spend behind this."

"Traditional product demos are a good way to put people to sleep," said Via Exec Creative Director Amos Goss. Rather than a "side-by-side comparison out of a 1980s detergent commercial," he said Via decided to take giant representations of lips to the mountains and the beach.

"We just absolutely loved it," Ms. Dunlop said. "We said we want to do this, but one condition is that absolutely nothing is faked, because the power of this in PR is that it is done absolutely for real and we don't have to put any disclaimer on the film saying this is a re-enactment or an illustration."

That meant getting Unilever R&D and legal (a.k.a. "claim support") integrally involved in the creative process. As fun and commercially useful as it might have been to transport the lips uncovered on a tractor trailer, they were covered with a tarp to protect integrity of the test. And Unilever even trained time-lapse cameras on the lips "so no funny business happened," Ms. Dunlop said. Some of that "claim support" video ultimately made it into the advertising.

Unilever R&D concluded that clay was a reasonable substitute for lips, a proxy for a substrate that starts wet but can lose moisture readily. "No giants were harmed in the making of this commercial," Ms. Dunlop said. And, yes, Via really did slather real Vaseline all over one set of lips.

As much as the giant lips may seem like a natural for a traveling road show hitting the U.S. interstate highway system on the way to street festivals, that's not in the plan or the budget at this point. Indeed, the lips aren't around anymore in storage at a warehouse in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., or Portland, Me., though Ms. Dunlop has kept the giant Vaseline Lip Therapy tin around as a memento.

A 30-second version of the video is running as a pre-roll ad on YouTube in the U.S. and U.K., with plans for a series of social-media posts to help boost circulation.

Via was "perfect for this kind of project," Ms. Dunlop said. "They have done some really fantastic work for some other Unilever brands, which is why they were on our radar."

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