Joe Wicks: A case study in breathing new life into old ideas

Now may be a time to revisit shelved projects, says this creative director.

by Phil Blackmore
Last Updated: 11 May 2020

Joe Wicks is having a good crisis. The Body Coach has rocketed into popular culture with his daily live-streamed workouts PE With Joe. There is one thing he is at pains to stress: this was not an overnight success. 

But with all the magic ingredients in place – a great message (health), a great product (Joe), a clear need (kids getting fit) and an unbelievable price point (free) – why did it take COVID-19 to give Wicks his 'Jamie’s school dinners' moment? And what other great ideas sit idle on the drawing boards of businesses that are in need of revisiting?

What might have been wrong before may now find the timing is absolutely right. 

Back in November 2019, Wicks was out on the road, relentlessly driving his agenda to improve fitness in schools. At the time, he was working as an ambassador for Children in Need, promoting the "Big Morning Move" campaign. 

You've probably not heard of it. Yet this was without doubt a high-water mark for Wicks in his restless four-year campaign to get kids fitter and, by extension, happier. Again, all the ingredients were there – a noble cause, a charismatic leader, positivity and energy, a captive and engaged audience, and an army of healthcare advisors, social scientists, parents and teachers endorsing his mission. And yet it failed to ignite. Why?

It comes down to the difference between a genuine need and an idealised one, and the essential role of context in influencing our mindsets. 

Both Jamie Oliver's and Joe Wicks' messages were agreeable: school dinners should be nutritious and kids should do exercise in school. But whereas Oliver addressed a genuine national concern about health (certainly back in 2005), the reality is that Wicks' PE message simply didn’t connect with parents, as they could easily rationalise away the need ("My child does enough exercise at school – they run around the playground"). 

But not now. With children metaphorically caged at home for 24 hours a day due to COVID-19, getting exercise has become a genuine need. Our mindsets have changed – turning a message and product that was always right into a "must-have" at 9am every day. 

Wicks is not alone. A number of products that had solved a genuine need, but that previously could not break through, are now in huge demand:

Cambridge Masks – a boutique, design-led UK manufacturer of face masks. Previously positioned as a proposition on pollution, it's now fully focused on health.

- Collaboration tools such as Zoom and Mural allow people to connect and collaborate in new ways. Virtual meetings were faddy before, but are now firmly established in the new normal.

Sainsbury’s SmartShop – completely till-free shopping trialled in January 2019 but is only now really taking off as customers are motivated to try new ways to buy groceries.

- Online shopping delivery – with Tesco achieving one million online delivery slots per week, posting significant growth from older demographics who have been heavily encouraged to shop online, often for the first time.

But this list should be much longer. 

The world has changed and products that failed before may be ready to shine. 

Every business has a shelf of ideas that never happened, that "were ahead of the market" or where the strength of feeling wasn’t quite there. We’ve worked on many brilliant products that never quite reached the market, but might now be met with a completely different reaction. 

Innumerable products that once had the right message at the right time are now no longer appropriate. Rather than starting again from scratch, why not start by revisiting the ones that got away? Get them out. Dust them off. Reconsider the need and whether our mindsets have now shifted from "nice to have" to "need it now". 

And, if that is the case, you may well have just struck gold – a bit like our Joe.

Phil Blackmore is owner and creative director at Create Health. This piece was first published by Management Today's sister title Campaign

Image credit: Comic Relief / Contributor via Getty Images.



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