Gravity Award Winner: Nivea Sun Solar Ad Charger

FCB Brazil found a way to make a magazine ad give back to readers by charging their phones

Acouple of years ago, Max Geraldo and his team at FCB Brazil in São Paulo needed a fresh way to make Nivea Sun’s line of lotions and moisturizers shine. They wanted to create a fun and unexpected campaign that would also add utility. FCB soon devised a fusion of commerce, content and technology that let sun worshippers enjoy the rays without having to worry about charging their mobile phones.

In May 2013, Nivea Sun ads, fitted with wafer-thin solar cells and a phone plug, appeared in some issues of a popular general-interest magazine. These special inserts used sunlight to charge cellular batteries, so folks could linger by the seaside, secure in the knowledge their phones wouldn’t die. The connection to the brand, which allows folks to tan safely, was unforced and natural.

The campaign garnered widespread praise and attention, generating millions of media impressions worldwide. Now, the Nivea Sun solar charger has earned FCB Brazil Adweek’s second annual Project Isaac Gravity Award celebrating the coolest, smartest and most innovative concepts across media, marketing and technology.

“We want to offer not only products guided by innovation, but also amazing experiences that make our customers’ lives better and easier,” says Tatiana Ponce, marketing director of Nivea Brazil. The solar charger was a great fit for the Beiersdorf-owned brand because it mirrors the company’s “constant search for innovation, modernity and new technologies that provide comfort and safety to our customers,” she adds.

The insert’s development took eight months from conception to completion. “The main challenge was to find a company capable of producing a flexible solar panel with the capacity to charge the main cellphones of the Brazilian market,” and to ensure that art and copy could be compellingly rendered on such an unusual ad, says Geraldo, vp, creative at FCB Brazil. The agency spoke to firms in France, Mexico and the U.S., but finally partnered with a Chinese firm—trying out four prototypes before producing the final insert. Five hundred ads with solar chargers were disseminated via a selective mailing of Veja Rio magazine.

The initiative impressed on several levels. It’s a highly memorable, flawlessly executed ad with a helpful hook for its immediate audience. “This kind of work is part of building a genuine relationship,” says Judy Austin, an associate professor of communications at Boston University. “Giving people something of meaningful value for use in their lives without asking them to buy something first can turn customers into a brand community.”

Plus, “consumers respond very well to campaigns that ‘give back’ by adding in some element of corporate or social responsibility—so the green aspect of this insert is compelling,” says Michael Solomon, director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

An added bonus, of course, is that the client, agency and media platform all get to bask in viral glory. But in the end, the solar charger was more than a clever one-off. In an age when some agencies are hot to get into product design—either on their own or in tandem with clients—the work demonstrates that a useful, wisely thought-out brand tie-in can make a global impact. “I think we’ll see a lot more of this general approach to building in added functionality,” Solomon notes.

Though the work is cutting edge and forward facing, “it proves that print advertising is not dead,” says Tom Megginson, a prominent blogger on media and marketing issues. “This is something that could only have been done on a physical ad—whether print, outdoor or direct mail—rather than with digital or broadcast.” Legacy media, take note: Supporting novel ideas that provide true functionality could help attract prospective advertisers.

The solar charger proved so successful, Nivea, FCB and Veja Rio teamed up again in 2014 to develop a “Sun Band” insert containing a removable child’s bracelet, which won three Silvers and a Bronze at the Clio Awards. It syncs with a Nivea app to monitor how far kids roam from their parents on the beach. If they stray too far, the app sounds the alarm.

Such continuing innovation gives Nivea “a factor of differentiation in a market as competitive as cosmetics and beauty,” says Geraldo, and “helps us keep the brand always young.”

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.