What on earth does Clearasil know about teenagers from inside its corporate offices in Parsippany, N.J.? Basically nothing, except how to make anti-acne products for them, the company admits in 10 comical new ads from Droga5—in which the brand's employees are the lame old people pathetically out of touch with youth culture.
A lot of the humor in the 60-second launch spot below comes from the voiceover, which introduces things like pizza, skateboarding and cars, hoping teen viewers will like them.
"We work at Clearasil, and we're just trying to tell you that Clearasil Ultra works fast," the friendly but bemused-sounding female voice says. "But we don't know how to do that. Because we don't really know teens. We only know teen acne. So, we're just going to guess what you guys like. A lot of times. So you're into this."
Check out the launch spot here:
Droga5 started working for the RB brand last summer, rolling out comic ads under the tagline "Let's be clear." This new work keeps that line, which is now followed by, "We know your acne. We just don't know you."
Droga5 came to this year's work knowing the only thing that would feel genuine to teens is the truth—and that truth is that Clearasil doesn't know how to act cool around teens at all.
"The campaign builds from a real-life experience with a meme gone wrong," says Droga5 group creative director Tim Gordon. "Many, many scathing comments from teens later, including a very specific one about being an out-of-touch marketing man in an office tower, we decided, 'They're right. We don't get teens.' And does anyone, really? Nope. Teens are intimidating little humans. No one knows what's going on inside their heads. Instead of pretending, we decided to just be honest and admit that we didn't."
"We found that teens really respect honesty," Gordon says. "These are people who are bombarded by companies declaring, 'We get totally get you!' even when they totally don't. Teens are tired of brands pretending to know them, and we're betting that they'll find it refreshing for a company to come out and say that they don't. While humor felt like the most natural way in, it was important for the humor to be rooted in a real truth. It also didn't hurt that being out of touch with what teens like comes natural to oldies like us."
While the launch spot tries to guess what teens are into, subsequent ads focus on one guess at a time—like hot tubs, extreme sports and birds being released into the wilderness.
See some of those ads here:
The irony, of course, is that by claiming not to know its target market at all, Clearasil proves it actually does know the target pretty well—or at least, how it prefers to be marketed to.
The ads parody some marketing-to-teen tactics, but Gordon says it's broader than that.
"I love the earnestness of the ideas," he says. "We set out with a clear objective not to make fun of teens—only ourselves. Each spot is a genuine attempt to try and relate to teens, but an attempt not done terribly well. It's a voicemail that goes on too long, or your older aunt desperately trying to relate."
He adds: "We actually tried to stay away from skewering 'marketing tropes' in favor of trying to think about how our moms would try to relate. I'd say 'We know acne, we don't know teens' is less a direct commentary on advertising and more about having fun with every generation's attempt to relate to the one that comes next."
The campaign is brilliantly counterintuitive, and awkward-comedy gold. And while Gordon admits it took a little coaxing to get the client comfortable with saying it's clueless about its target market, but it was worth it in the end.
"It was definitely a little tough at first," says Gordon, "but full credit to them for coming around very quickly. Clearasil's main objective is to be honest and reassuring toward teens, and there is no better way than to admit what you know—teen acne—and what you don't—teenagers. In the end, they had a ton of fun with the idea and were quick to offer up plenty of insights into life in Parsippany."
Campaign: "We know acne, we don't know teens"
Agency: Droga5 New York
Creative Chairman: David Droga
Chief Creative Officer: Ted Royer
Group Creative Director: Tim Gordon
Associate Creative Director: Jen Lu:
Copywriter: Sarah Lloyd
Art Director: Mary Dauterman
Junior Copywriter: Madeleine Trebenski
Junior Art Director: Brittain McNeel
Chief Creation Officer: Sally-Ann Dale
Head of Broadcast Production: Ben Davies
Group Integrated Production Manager: Topher Lorette
Broadcast Producer: Leah Donnenberg
Associate Broadcast Producer: Jackie Omanoff
Social Producer: Gabrielle Nicoletti
Global Chief Strategy Officer: Jonny Bauer
Group Strategy Director: Jonny Gadd
Strategy Director: Danielle Travers:
Group Communications Strategy Director: Samantha Deevy
Social Communications Strategist: Maureen O'Brien
Data Strategy Director: Lily Ng
Data Strategist: Christina Fieni
Senior Strategist: Nika Rastakhiz
Executive Group Directors: Brett Edgar, Angela Kosniewski
Account Directors: Amanda Chandler, Megan Gokey
Account Manager: Lucie Kittel
Project Manager: Rayna Lucier
General Manager, U.S.: Chris Tedesco
Marketing Director: Aurore Trepo
Brand Managers: Niccolo Francalanci, Elyse Goldweitz
Associate Brand Manager: Rochelle Samuels
Production Company: Ways & Means
Director: Sunbeam (Nick Paley and Dean Fleischer-Camp)
Director of Photography: James Wall
Executive Producers: Jett Steiger, Lana Kim
Producer: Cedric Troadec
Editors: Sean McGrath, Chuck Willis
Assistant Editors: Julie Walsh, Misha Kozlov
Executive Producer: Susan Willis
Producer: Melissa Nusbaum
Postproduction: Light of Day
Executive Producer: Susan Willis
Producer: Melissa Nusbaum:
Color Grade: RCO
Colorist: Seth Ricart
Executive Producer: Marcus Lansdell
Sound: Cutting Room
Mixer: Walter Bianco