3 ways to improve Back Market’s London advertising campaign

Michelle Wiles 🪄📈
5 min readMay 29, 2022

Back Market is a an online retailer where you can buy refurbished tech — think updated smart phones and computers, with new batteries for a new life.

After raising new funds at a 5.7Bn valuation in January, Back Market invested in a splashy out-of-home (OOH) campaign across London.

I am a Back Market customer. I like the company. But I don’t see this campaign being very effective.

There are (3) issues with this campaign.

Back Market’s London Campaign

1. The ads are un-relatable

79.68 Kg carbon… what?

The most common ad positions a Back Market phone as a way to reduce carbon by 79.68 Kg. The problem is, people don’t talk about kilograms of carbon. People sometimes talk in vague terms about lowing their carbon impact by eating vegetarian or buying sustainable fashion. But this ad asks the audience to do the math.

An easy improvement? Relate this to me.

  • A Back Market refurbished phone saves the same amount of CO2 as going vegetarian 1/day a week for an entire year.

2) The ads assume people care about sustainability

Sustainability is marketed by beloved brands from Tesla to Oatly. But sustainability is not these brands’ only benefit. Tesla is a sustainable car. But more importantly, Tesla is a cool car. Oatly sells more sustainable milk. But Oatly’s successful campaigns are not about the environment. They are about better milk that froths in coffee and tastes good and doesn’t cause issues for lactose intolerant people.

Even Patagonia, a brand that spends most of their marketing budget on climate change, is about product first. Their famous Don’t buy this jacket ad sells sustainability. But underlying the ad is a message of product quality: our products last long enough so you don’t need to re-buy them. Which also happens to be sustainable.

Source: Patagonia

People don’t buy sustainable products. They buy good products. Sustainability is an added benefit on top of that.

An easy fix for Back Market? Start with product benefit, then sell sustainability. Tell me these phones are as good as new, just half the price. Oh and half the planetary impact, too.

  • Half the price. Half the carbon impact. Get it on Back Market.
  • That new phone smell. At half the cost. Get it on Back Market.
  • “How to become Super” Campaign: A campaign that leans into Marvel frenzy by offering a simple set of steps to save the planet and your wallet at the same time. All guaranteed by Back Market’s Back Label quality program. Step 1: Come up with your superhero name. Step 2: Buy a Back Market phone at half the price of a new one. Step 3? Decide what to do with your savings. Super.
Refurbished phone = Less raw materials = Less dirt from my ex = ???

3) Brand “purpose” is not supposed to be selfish

Some might say that this campaign is not about selling phones. It’s about selling~purpose~. Building a brand. Making people ‘like’ Back Market.

To which I say, yes… but… There is no purpose here. Brands show purpose by making an investment. In a crisis, Airbnb offers free housing to refugees. And Airbnb will do it whether you book your next place on Airbnb or not. Patagonia invests in sustainable fashion production. Their clothes are more expensive as a result. But the company would do this anyway. In fact, Patagonia stopped manufacturing clothes for corporates because it results in clothes that the world doesn’t need. That’s an investment.

Back Market’s campaign takes a different tone. They ask you to make the sustainable choice, by buying from them. We make money, and you’re sustainable! It’s a nice business model. But it doesn’t generate fuzzy feelings about the brand.

The thing is, the Back Market does have opportunities for purpose. Back Market’s website lists a clear mission about restoring trust in refurbished goods. They have invested in a grading system to offer would-be buyers a clear understanding of how a refurbished phone will perform, considering cosmetics and functionality. Why not do a campaign about that?

The fix: Make the campaign about Back Market’s investments in sustainability.

  • Back Market Labs: a campaign about the innovative processes to refurbish phones and bring them back to life. High-tech, documentary style vibes.
  • Back Market Reincarnated: an animated Toy Story-esque series about phones and the 2nd and 3rd lives they go on to thanks to Back Market’s revival process that pulls them from the trash and sets them up for Act II. Emotional, storytelling feels.

Learnings

1) Speak your customers’ language.

Why do they buy your service? What do they care about? If audiences never mention kilograms of carbon, it’s likely not the language to use. Instead, start a conversation about the environment and see how they speak about it.

2) Sustainability is a bonus.

Give customers a reason to purchase your product beyond ‘it’s sustainable.’ Sustainable products are often highly durable, technically innovative, or both. Sell customers on that, and back it up with mission.

3) If you want to sell purpose, invest in it yourself.

Brand purpose is a function of the actions you take as a brand, not what you ask of consumers.

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