Pura and FCB Inferno tell Laura Swinton about ‘democratising eco’ with the help of grumpy babies, and a D2C ecommerce model that’s challenging convention.
On the face of it, a global pandemic might not seem to be the ideal time to launch a new brand. But life goes on. And babies keep pooping.
Pura is a new baby brand, that launched in the summer with a line of plastic-free baby wipes in June. Founders Abi and Guy Fennell had spent three years on research and development, had invested their own savings into setting up a company getting production up and running, and they had some clever creative (featuring some deliciously grumpy babies) from a top agency ready to run. They weren’t about to let a little thing like Covid-19 get in their way.
That’s because the start-up is fuelled by a sense of righteous passion.
The idea to create an affordable line of wipes and nappies came to Guy when he saw the sheer volume of wipe waste his baby niece generated.
“I was just amazed with the amount of baby wipes everywhere. I mean, they were literally everywhere. They were in nurseries, in the downstairs toilet, in hand bags and even in the dog basket! exclaims Guy. He only became more astounded when he learned that a staggering 90% of wipes sold in the UK contain plastic – a fact that very few people know. Abi and Guy were thinking of starting their own family and wanted to make better choices for the world their baby would grow up in. “At that time I felt, ‘well, why don't we try to create a new eco baby brand?’ A brand with strong environmental credentials at its heart and that was really committed to driving change, starting with the launch of Pura 100% plastic free baby wipes,” he says.
“What we're trying to do is basically democratise eco, and make it affordable for everybody. That's the key piece here.”
With a background in the FMCG wholesale sector, the logistics part came naturally to Guy – though he says there were many late nights hunched over the kitchen table in Cheshire, researching factories and potential partners.
Once they had a product, they needed to figure out how to launch it. That’s where CMO Amanda Richards comes in. Amanda has a marketing background in major corporates like Unilever and Philips. She had left frustrated at the slow pace of change and movement at even the most committed big companies. Guy and Abi’s vision, ambition and sheer dynamism was just what she needed.
“Big companies talk about making change and making a difference. But it's difficult for them to change their supply chains overnight,” she says. “I think part of the reason that we see a lot of big brands still using plastic in wipes is because changing a line in a factory costs millions of pounds of Cap Ex, and it takes a long time. The beauty of the start-up, I suppose, is that there is none of that kind of legacy.”
The relationship with FCB Inferno came about because Amanda and Guy were determined to give the brand the platform and campaign it deserved. For Sharon Jiggins, Chief Marketing Officer at FCB Inferno, working with Abi, Guy and Amanda has been something of a meeting of minds and she says they came to the creative process with an open mind, and that the ethos of the Pura resonated with her personally.
“This isn't about creating some cool brand that's for the yummy mummies. On a personal level I wish Pura had been around when my sons were little because you always want to do the best thing for your children. But sometimes it's just not possible, from both a convenience point of view as well as a price thing,” says Sharon.
Launching on June 21st – appropriately enough, that’s Father’s Day in the UK – Pura let rip with a campaign that went big. The launch involved FCB Inferno and brand design agency Beach.
The grumpy baby creative sees a cast of small, disgruntled spokespeople explain the bleak future ahead for them if adults don’t tackle the environmental crisis. Amanda says that they see the babies as ‘playful activists’ and that it was crucial that the ads were not judgemental. Stressed out new parents trying to do the right thing while juggling the demands of life and work don’t need any added guilt.
Another thing that they didn’t want to do was re-tread the cliches and conventions of the baby care category. “FCB obviously did a lot of looking at competitor creative and there's a real sort of 'world' of baby advertising which is soft-focus gentle music, beautiful babies,” reflects Amanda. “We said that’s that's not the Pura world’. The Pura world is every kind of baby, every kind of race and, as you would have seen we also featured ran with some babies with special needs in the advertising. Everybody needs to be a part of what we're trying to do.”
Doing things differently and defying the norm is a principle that Guy lives by. “From my perspective, whatever I do in business or life, I don't want to be a sheep. And if 100 people have gone left, I'll just go right just for the hell of it, because I like to spice it up,” he says.
As well as the grumpy babies campaign and carefully orchestrated ATL, social and influencer push with big name ambassadors such as Diversity star Ashley Banjo, Strictly’s Gemma Atkinson and Happy Mum Happy baby host Giovanna Fletcher, the launch was also accompanied by a storybook. The team at FCB devised Lily and the Wipe monster, a book inspired by Guy’s niece, about a little girl who meets a naughty Wipe Monster, who likes to flush plastic-filled wipes down the loo – the book is both an incentive that comes along with a subscription and also an educational tool.
Many of the stories emerging from Covid-19 have been tales of pivots and sharp changes, which makes Pura’s journey even more unusual. The go-to-market strategy unfolded more or less as planned, notes Amanda. “I'm so proud of what we've achieved out of lockdown. And to be honest, we've pretty much delivered against everything that we said that we wanted to from a kind of marketing and comms perspective, with the exception of outdoor advertising.”
And that decision has paid off. In the first week after launch, Pura dispatched 22,000 orders – and demand continues to grow. The brand has launched with a direct-to-consumer subscription model was always the tack that the Pura team were planning on – they figured that bulky, regular purchases would suit people’s lifestyles as a delivery product, rather than something people have to lug home from the supermarket every week. It just so happened that during lockdown supermarket delivery slots were in short supply, which lent Pura’s delivery model even more appeal.
Another mark of Pura’s success is that the team has grown to 23 people, as they have added to their customer service team during lockdown. There’s a sense of pride that they’ve not only managed to build and launch a brand but create jobs too.
The launch of Pura baby wipes has gone well but Guy and Abi are not resting. The next step is to launch nappies. They’ve also started recycling nappies, working with a Welsh recycling centre called Nappicycle to turn 12,000 tonnes of nappies into goods like noticeboards for schools and floorboards for affordable housing. They’re the first baby brand in the UK to do so and are in talk with councils in England to increase the reach of the nappy recycling scheme.
And there’s international expansion in the company’s near future. In the next four to eight weeks they’ll be pressing go in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. The team have been engaging the wider FCB network to test the waters in China and Canada. (It turns out grumpy babies are cute in every language.) Guy says the ambition is to grow the company to 100 million in sales in three years.
With the packaging, Guy has a long-term vision. The wipes and nappies are designed to include clearly marked indicators of what materials the products are made from and their environmental impact. He hopes that it can become an industry standard, in much the same way that UK supermarkets clearly label food products with their salt, sugar and fat content using a traffic light system.
Talking of the long term, it just so happens that Abi gave birth to a baby boy just before lockdown, so everything she and Guy are doing with Pura is an investment in a better future for little Ezra. The need to leave the planet in better shape has become suddenly very, very real for the pair.
“Abi and I aren't eco-warriors. Far from it, says Guy “but what we are trying to do is to make a difference. And if we can all make little changes, together that’s a big help to the environment.”