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Few things attract attention for a brand like a stunt or a ‘world’s first’. As part of the Agencies4Growth festival, Neil Foster, vice-president of Guinness World Records (GWR) consultancy and Hayley Woodward, head of global marketing for Rubik’s shared how agencies can break world records (as well as KPI results) with bold campaigns.

Neil Foster, vice-president of the Guinness World Records (GWR) consultancy helps brands, charities and groups set up and execute record-breaking attempts – more often than not as part of marketing or comms campaigns. His team of researchers and marketers research (to the nth degree) to design and deliver bold and relevant record attempts.

GWR was inadvertently launched by Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of the Guinness Brewery after an argument about bird-flight speeds at a shooting party in County Wexford. Fleet Street-dwelling investigators, the McWhirter twins, were enlisted to compile a book of facts for pubs in 1954. And from there the publisher grew into the de facto record-keeper and benchmarker.

The group receives around 50,000 record applications a year, so amid this mire, Fosters’ unusual consultancy comes to play. The work isn’t as fun as it initially sounds. He says: “The bulk of the work is actually developing the record title. First, there’s the behind the scenes team that develops the record with agencies and then there’s an upper chamber that ratifies records to make sure that they are truly global, fit with our standards and our criteria. They need to be achievable, breakable, standardized and measurable.”

The business functions like a bicameral parliament; record attempts appear to be ratified and amended like bills. 

It can be an intimidating process for potential clients to navigate. Foster says that agencies generally have a good idea of what they want. Often, that idea evolves, either to be more attention-grabbing or to sync with an actual record. 

“There’s quite a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in researching and standardizing. And then we create a set of guidelines.”

The devil is in the details. To enter the record book, you need to adhere to the strict guidelines. During attempts, adjudicators have to be on-site (or virtually watching), so additional staff are often sourced from third-party measurement firms. For example, “If it’s a particular type of dance, we will need a choreographer to actually see that everyone is doing the dance properly.”


The brand perspective

Rubik’s, the celebrated puzzle brand and 80s icon, has grown on the back of nostalgia and its assured presence in the GWR book.

Recently, the brand has used that as a springboard to try and break some records. It’s had to be creative to find achievable hurdles – as it’s safe to say no one will be beating the fastest time to solve a 3x3 cube any time soon (3.47 seconds). And any record it attempted to best had to also match up against its business goals.

It’s had two record attempts in the last year, and expects another soon, according to Hayley Woodward, head of global marketing for Rubik’s.

In November 2019, a trade and licensee summit in Covent Gardens became something more. It looked to break the record to have the most people contributing to a Rubik’s mosaic [depicting Prince Harry, pictured above]. 308 commuters were directed towards a shop to help crack the record. Each Rubik’s was professionally scrambled (yes, that is a profession) to ensure a challenge in building a mosaic.

Woodward says that the allure of being a record-holder excited her licensees and the general public. It soon became apparent that a record that melds Rubik’s, education and a bit of drama could tip her KPIs in the correct direction. 

Around a quarter of brand record attempts fail, says Foster, so there is a risk. But even a failed effort doesn’t equal a failed campaign. Rubik’s second record-attempt failed during the summer. Nonetheless, Woodward was upbeat and smiling. It looked to boost the brand among a TikTok-consuming audience and drive sales to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Rubik's enlisted influencers to gather people for a virtual lesson.


She says: “Although we didn't actually achieve that record attempt, content-wise, it was fantastic. It really incentivized people to actually participate, watch and learn how to solve the cube in lockdown, despite not hitting 30,000 simultaneous people learning"

Rubik’s failed to hit that peak live audience, but during the 24-hour window, it breached the figure, so it was within touching distance. ’#CubeAtHome’ reached 20 million people on TikTok and it directly drove sales at retail partners (so people could partake in the record) – naturally, you can't partake in a Rubik’s lesson if you don't have a cube. 

Foster says: “Even when brands don’t get the record, they have a great experience and get  everyone together to blend experiential with content creation.”


Marketing a record

Foster says the best GWR efforts are a “creative expression of a feature, a product or a brand truth”.

He evidences this with a campaign from LG. The brief originally aimed to showcase the world’s quietest washing machine. After a consultation, the team realised sound and decibels aren't particularly visual or existing. Instead, they decided to build the world‘s tallest house of cards built on an operating washing machine, in just 12 hours. Vibration is sound – everyone can immediately see the product benefit from the attempt.

“It started out in Korea but was actually for a campaign that went on TV and cinema,“ he says. The idea transcends words – like many iconic ads do.


Foster says: “With our content, there is jeopardy, there is tension, and people watch to the end because there is a natural conclusion.“

A second campaign worth checking came from Porsche. It set the record for the fastest slalom. “It‘s a brilliant piece of content. There's a 16-year-old girl driving the car. There‘s a will-she, won‘t-she element. And she did it in 42 seconds. It‘s great short-form content.“

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You don‘t need to be a huge brand to use a record to get a point across. Foster tells the story of Dutch company ASML, which tried to attract engineering graduates. They simply engineered the world‘s smallest ad and had graduates check it out through a microscope. “By doing that, they actually got achieved all of their goals.“ By doing what it does best –engineering – the company created a strong talking point and a cool draw for applicants. 


Woodford concludes: “Even if you think it's not achievable, it's definitely worth trying because the content that you will get from it is great. And it will definitely incentivize influencers and celebrities who may not have got involved with your brand or product before.”

Watch our array of Agencies4Growth panels on the subject – or read our round-ups here.