Meet Aunt Helga, a Mary Poppins Brand Character for the Matrix Generation
For its first-ever foray into the U.K., web hosting and cloud provider Ionos tapped branding firm Nomad, creative production studio Armoury London, and agency 2050 London—a rare pitch collab that yielded a striking result: Aunt Helga.
We give you "I Own This," where the character makes her big debut.
Aunt Helga, enrobed in shiny yet matte black, sports a high silver beehive and jet-propelled boots, which activate when she taps the heels, à la Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She appears—from Germany…?—before a charming fictional wool shop called Woolworks, stepping out of a hole in space/time.
While her means of travel seem more efficient than anything we've got available, she doesn't have time for small talk. She brushes past the store owner and straight to a man at a computer. He's throwing together a website, using the signature typography of people who don't know what they're doing (though it's great for dyslexia!): Comic Sans MS.
"Good at knitting, bad at building websites," she diagnoses, then magics him out of her way and commandeers the desktop. A few interesting things to note at this point:
- Aunt Helga is just over half the size of the people around her.
- She can twist her head all the way around, like an owl.
"Relaaaax, darlings," she purrs, constructing a more pleasing website at hyperspeed. "Websites, hosting, domains—I own this!"
(Not an anodyne potpourri of skills. When we Google "woolworks," the first thing that comes up is a yarn company that uses Facebook as its storefront—a common thing to do, likely because setting up a website is overwhelming. Also, why bother? Facebook has all the traffic anyway. Though this position is worth revisiting in light of recent events.)
Anyway, once Aunt Helga performs her magic, our would-be webmaster takes back the computer and appropriates her words, eyes fixed to the screen. That moment—when the ease of a really good service yields to the pleasure of having exactly what you need—echoes the title of the ad, a play on the idea of doing something well ("I own this") and of proprietary pride ("I own this").
Her job done, Aunt Helga breezily cries, "Happy jumpers!" and disappears through another wormhole, right in the middle of the floor—a tech-savvy Mary Poppins for the ersatz orphans of e-commerce.
"I Own This" was directed by Marc Sidelsky. It's followed by two other :15 films, featuring Aunt Helga dropping magic on a plumber and a fitness trainer. The ads are supported by digital and social media, with media buying and planning managed by A1 Marketing.
We talked to the team that gave us Aunt Helga—not only about Aunt Helga, but about what it means to bring a brand mascot to life at this point in time, and what advertising could use more of right now. Read it all below.
Muse: Tell us about Aunt Helga and what she brings to the Ionos brand.
Terry Stephens, Nomad ECD: Although hugely successful across Europe, Ionos hadn't quite landed with a U.K. audience, so our hope was to lean on the British love of German efficiency and a touch of dry wit to help clarify who Ionos are and what they can do for you and your business.
Helga represents their product, a super-efficient fixer who you can rely on to help sort your web needs. Her "I own this" catchphrase is a play on the Ionos name, designed to stick in people's minds and ensure Ionos are front of mind when they're looking for website support.
Where'd the insight come from?
Ben Tan, strategy director, 2050 London: Like all the best insights, this one came from the heart. As agency leaders, we all have personal experience of some curveball technical, legal, financial or other random problem cropping up. It's nobody's day job, but if you're the boss, it's ultimately down to you to sort it out.
Well, that's Ionos customers' experience of trying to sort out their website. We explored this in research, and SME owners spoke all too readily about their late-night struggles to become instant experts in web design, and how all they wanted was someone good to come in and "just sort it out." Thus Aunt Helga was born!
What was the process of creating her? Did you have to build a personality profile, a wardrobe, etc…
Stephens: One word—teamwork. Nomad, Armoury and 2050 came together to discuss a whole range of ideas, from German shepherds to tech Vikings. We had an honest and open discussion over what was lacking in current advertising, and what, we felt, could help Ionos land in the hearts and minds of the British public.
Multi-award-winning director Marc Sidelski then came on board to help us bring Helga to life. In just three months from pitch to production, we were meeting Helga for real and capturing her in action.
Her character and spirit never changed from the first pitch. But it's fair to say that an incredibly talented team of casting directors, stylists and makeup artists helped us elevate the vision we had in our minds from that very first session.
Can you talk about the value of brand characters in advertising? What's the difference between one from scratch and licensing a celebrity, for example?
Adam Chiappe, ECD, 2050 London: For me, there is a distinct difference between a brand character and a brand personality/spokesperson. The latter creates a situation where you're borrowing interest from something which already has a sense of fame around it, for example a celebrity. Whereas an ownable brand character is a much more powerful entity for a brand to create, although it's also much more creatively challenging to get right.
When successfully executed, a brand character can live in the minds of the consumer for decades, or in the case of the Michelin Man, over a century. I also think consumers create much more of an emotional attachment to a brand character than they do a celebrity who has been brought in for the duration of a campaign, because at the end of the day, the emotion is swayed to the side of the celebrity rather than the brand.
A brand character is the brand. It's a living, breathing personification of what the brand stands for, and that's its creative superpower.
Long live imaginative, entertaining brand characters, is what I say!
Who's your favorite brand character of all-time?
Matt Hichens, MD and executive producer, Armoury: Being originally Northern Irish, it has got to be the Harp Camel and the classic line "Pint Harp and packet dates, Lawrence!"
Stephens: Mr. Peanut for me … so sophisticated, so suave. And all for a bag of nuts! He also brings memories flooding back of my sister and me sitting in a pub in Battersea with my late grandparents—'80s babysitting at its absolute finest. Devastated to see he's now been killed off. :(
Tan: I'm going for the Smash Martians. I can still hear the jingle "For mash, get Smash." It's not the "best" character seen cold, but it clearly worked and, because it's been in my head for 40 years, it no longer feels like an ad so much as a childhood memory—one of those formative experiences, like Rubik's Cubes and Atari consoles, that made me.
Chiappe: The brand characters which have stayed with me the most are the ones I grew up with like the Kia Ora "Crows," Smash "Martians," Hoffmeister "Bear," Budweiser "Frogs" and Levi's "Flat Eric." Of course there are many more, but it's these entertaining yet rather irreverent examples that have really stood the test of time for me.
Adam Morrison, managing director, 2050 London: We all have our favorite Hollywood characters, but too often, as ad folk, we skip over their immense potential in impacting culture. Jolly Green Giant and that jolly jingle "Green Giant" are etched in my mind forever.
What kinds of personalities inspired Aunt Helga?
Hichens: You can probably see a little bit of Edna Mode, and she's a little bit Linda Hunt, but really she's just a lot like Aunt Helga, your new favourite no-nonsense "cloud" German fairy godmother!
Does Aunt Helga have a trajectory you're planning for future works?
Stephens: The intention was to create a character that could last the test of time. The TVC was our "hero introduction" of Helga, and the plan from here is to continue to build out her character through next year and beyond, following her as she fixes the different web- and hosting-related problems that small business owners face.
What makes you feel creative?
Stephens: Christ, what a question. Not even sure how to go about answering that.
What I love about what I/we do is the uncertainty of it all. Having no idea at the briefing stage of how the project will run. No idea of what the final solution will be. But trusting our team's amazing experience to find a way. Not sure if that makes me feel creative. But I like it.
What do you think advertising could use more, and less of, right now?
Mathew Saunby, ECD, 2050 London: Advertising needs more Ryan Reynolds and less Nathan Barley. In other words (in case you don't know who Nathan Barley is), less worthy bullshit and more "positively bonkers" attitude, please.
Too many brands are looking for a purpose to advertise in the world—a social injustice that they can put right. And that's cool, if it's truly authentic and you truly make a difference. If it's in your DNA.
We loved working with Fairtrade. They are the real deal. Their purpose is profound and they are actually changing the future for millions of people. But campaigns about cat food saving the ocean's ecosystems in Australia? A chocolate Curly Wurly helping to end loneliness amongst our elderly? An ice cream that arms children in wartorn countries with an education instead of an AK-47?
This steals attention from genuine purpose heroes like Fairtrade, and, I fear, leaves Doreen from Doncaster confused and cynical. What's next? A brand that takes earwax from migrant workers and turns it into a giant posh fragrant candle that somehow helps battered women living in homeless shelters across Grimsby? Sounds like an episode of Nathan Barley from the '90s … but it's not a joke. It's our industry in 2021.
So what's driving it? Purpose-driven advertising is now the work that wins big at the advertising creative award shows. To win gold nowadays, you need a social purpose campaign, and the case study to prove it. And I worry that more creative energy goes into these case studies than the work itself. It seems that the case studies are written long before they even have the client, then they find the client to suit it.
And while it's true that everyone wins a gold—the agency, the client and the creatives—is that really cracking business problems with creative energy?
Awards are important to our industry. It's how our work is recognized, how we advance ourselves and get pay raises. But the growing evidence is that the bulk of awarded work isn't effective for brands in the real world. In the last few years, the creative awards didn't reflect actual effectiveness.
In other words, creative work is not as effective. Advertising is losing its worth, its credibility. I think we need Ryan Reynolds to save us from Nathan Barley, because Ryan Reynolds is the human embodiment of "being positively bonkers," something that 2050 believe in. Ryan Reynolds is what advertising should be and needs to be more of again. He's a funny fucker, populist, irreverent, aspirational and always surprising. He loves to challenge the status quo, takes risks, and isn't afraid to make us laugh until the belly wobbles. We like seeing Ryan in our Instagram newsfeeds, we share Ryan with our friends.
Ryan Reynolds is always entertaining, and that's what advertising used to be.
We must never forget that advertising is everywhere; it's in the real world. If it's boring and predictable, it pollutes our environments and annoys people. It becomes what we at 2050 call "ad pollution."
I worry that this sea of purposeful work is now becoming merely formulaic ad pollution, actually killing the aims of real purpose-driven brands like Fairtrade. It's therefore no surprise that Ryan created his own brand of vodka and gin and decided to market it himself, without a big creative agency. Then sold it for gazillions.
He did that by being riotous and fun. Or, as we say at 2050, positively bonkers.
Advertising needs to be more fun, less serious—like Ryan. We are, after all, mostly only saving the world from dandruff. But having fun is very important for another reason. When the work is fun, we'll attract more talent from the real world. It's what attracted me and many other playful creative minds into our industry. Without brilliant creative minds, advertising will no longer function in the real world.
So, let's behave more like Ryan Reynolds. Let's raise a glass of vodka to Ryan, and let's all try to be a little more positively bonkers. Because that's what advertising needs lots more of right now. It'll be more effective in the long run.
Rafael Oliveira Göpfert
Production Company: Armoury
Director: Marc Sidelsky
MD & Executive Producer: Matt Hichens
Agency Producer: Lauraine Bhuglah
Producer: James McLaughlin
Production Manager: Robyn Warwick
Production Manager: Will Parnall
Production Assistant: Indy Calland
Production Assistant: Eleri Shone
Runner/ Intern: James Hichens
Branding Agency: NOMAD
ECD: Terry Stephens
Advertising Agency: 2050 London
ECD: Matt Saunby
ECD: Adam Chiappe
Head of Strategy: Ben Tan
DOP: Sam Goldie
Art Director: Clare Clarkson
Costume Stylist: Charlotte Walter
Costume Assistant: Alice Walter
Stills photography: Nick Eagle
Still image retouching: Gary Roylance
Editor: Mark Eddinoff
Post: Platige https://platige.com
FX Supervisor: Arkadiusz Arciszewski
Colourist: Piotr Sasim
Producer: Aga Górna
Music composition: Out Standard -
Sound: Munzie Thind @ https://www.gcrs.com