Brilliant marketing or a massive – and insulting – gaffe? You decide…

Did Kiwi’s ad deserve to win a Cannes Lion award – or is this a campaign that should never have taken off?

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An advert for shoe polish that waxed lyrical about Muhammad Ali’s boxing boots has won a prestigious award at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity – but is set to cause red faces all round.

The work was produced by Ogilvy Chicago for Kiwi Shoe Care and shows Ali’s boots accompanied by hundreds of words extolling the boxer’s brilliance. The hyperbolic language of the text highlights the magic of the man and makes the case that his shoes were part of what made him a champion of the world.

Take a look for yourselves.

The judges praised the ambition of the campaign that also included ads featuring the shoes of Ernest Hemingway, Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln.

“We were moved from the word go, but as we continued to read we became more and more engaged,” said jury president Yang Yeo. “There was no image of Ali but as we read we could feel Ali dancing around the ring, we could smell him. At a time where there are so many loose tweets, it was great to recognise the power of copywriting.”

Fighting talk

Ironically it was on Twitter where news broke that Ali had once licensed his name to appear on a rival shoe polish, produced by Champion Brands. And to make matters much, much worse it turns out that the company behind Kiwi shoe polish had sued Champion for alleged brand infringement.

One can carried the name and image of a flightless bird, the other of a boxing champion who claimed that he could not only fly but also sting. Kiwi’s objection was that their red, black and gold colouring had been copied, along with their instructions for use.

The Los Angeles Times of 1986 reported on the incident and called Ali for comment.

“Anyone who can read can see my name’s not Kiwi,” said Ali. “And I hope I don’t look like no kiwi bird.”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Los Angeles Times goes on to report that Ali claimed to have rejected a previous deal to work with Kiwi on the grounds that they had a manufacturing plant in apartheid South Africa.

“It wouldn’t look good to my people if I got involved with a company that made shoe polish in South Africa,” he told the paper.

Do your homework

The lessons for anyone working in advertising or marketing are clear. Great copywriting has the power to attract attention and a clever campaign can create interest in the most mundane of products.

More important, however, is the need to conduct thorough research. Fail to go the extra mile and your brand could be in for a beating.