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Why Heinz Created an ‘Unstainable Thobe’ and What It Means for Ketchup Eaters



The team at Wunderman Thompson Dubai tells LBB’s Nisna Mahtani how they wove nanotechnology into garments and worked with local businesses to keep everything authentic

Why Heinz Created an ‘Unstainable Thobe’ and What It Means for Ketchup Eaters

Embedded within Middle Eastern culture, the iconic white thobe is often worn by Arab men in the hot climates of Saudi Arabia, Dubai and more. These garments are not only a cultural symbol, but a practical use of cooling materials to create clothing which is adapted to the weather in the region. There’s just one issue though, keeping your thobe pristine is a matter of pride and something that the indulgence of Heinz ketchup can tarnish. So Heinz changed this.

In the ketchup company’s latest campaign, with support from Wunderman Thompson Dubai, it created the ‘Unstainable Thobe’, a garment which is not only culturally significant but now resists stains. Centred around the idea that ketchup and thobes didn’t mix, the company worked to break this notion and allow wraps, burgers and fries to be eaten without the worry of soiling a white piece of clothing. With the creation process taking over a year, the brand and agency turned to nanotechnology to create the 1,000 thobes which are up for winning.

The team at Wunderman Thompson Dubai, senior copywriter Adham Abdullah, creative director Tiago Bastos, ECD Pablo Dachefsky and associate creative director Marcelo Zylberberg speak to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about the process. 

LBB> Firstly, let’s speak about how you initially decided on using a thobe as the garment of choice within this campaign. Why is it so important to the region?

Adham> The thobe, the kandura or the dishdasha, is the national clothing of the region and locals wear it most of the time. Keeping it white and pristine is a matter of pride and this sacred tradition began centuries ago. We decided to use it to start a new conversation because changing such a rooted behaviour would create the bond that we needed for the brand and its local audience.

LBB> What did Heinz want to create with this spot? Did they have a targeted vision for the campaign or was there more of an ideation process behind it? Talk us through the process.

Tiago> To begin with it was important that we found a local insight that could really connect our audience with the product. We knew the importance of shifting Heinz from being perceived as a global brand to one more locally relevant for the customer.

To start, we interviewed many Arabs to understand the role of Heinz in their daily lives. Our interviews revealed that the problem wasn’t with the product itself, but rather there was a cultural reason; Gulf men have held back from really enjoying their food to avoid staining their pristine white thobes (keeping it perfectly white is a matter of great pride). Because of this, it is rare to find someone with a white thobe eating out at restaurants, and when they do go to one, they take precautions such as covering their thobes with napkins. 

LBB> Of course, the shemagh / keffiyeh (traditional headdress) uses the same colours as the Heinz brand. Was this one of the reasons for choosing the garments or was it a happy coincidence?

Pablo> Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for Heinz ketchup in the region. Once we decided to create a new thobe for Saudi men, having the shemagh (the headscarf) in red and white was just a happy coincidence.

LBB> What was the starting point of prototyping the Unstainable Thobe and how did you create a design that resisted the splatter of Heinz ketchup? 

Tiago> It was a mixture of fun and frustration! We researched many videos teaching local people tips and tricks on how to protect and wash their white thobes. Such as this, from local influencer Khalid Al Ameri. Next, we also investigated traditional laundry shops (which are usually the only place Saudi men will trust to wash their thobes) to see their entire cleaning process up close. We learned that it is not like washing a shirt at all! 

In the end, we realised that changing a traditional culture may be a huge risk for the brand. A lot of people recommended not moving forward with the idea because messing with a Saudi thobe is equivalent to messing with their national pride. And nobody wants that, right? Well, we always say ‘Go Bold or Go Home’. If we wanted to spark new behaviour, we would have to start a new conversation. 

We started prototyping our thobes with a twist that preserved the traditions of tailoring with fabric that had added technology to protect it from stains. We showed that one of their biggest symbols of pride was also a source of fear. Something that made them worry while enjoying another important cultural aspect: mealtime gatherings. 

With that in mind, we achieved our concept of ‘Eat Fearlessly’, a twist on Heinz’s usual approach of helping people avoid stains while praising Arab men’s dedication to the thobe and its importance.

LBB> How many designs and materials did you go through to get to his version? Can you talk us through some of the trial-and-error processes?

Pablo> We spent almost a year trying to figure out the best way to solve the problem, and we knew it was not going to be easy from the start. We began with the easy way and investigated what already existed in the market. There are water-repellent sprays to protect outdoor furniture from sun and rain but those didn’t work; they made the fabric thicker, and washing them would remove the product, so it needed to be reapplied every three months.

Next, we looked at ceramic coatings, like the ones found on car seats and that had similar results. We learned from our mistakes and eventually found the ideal solution.

LBB> You collaborated with local tailors, designers, and textile makers to create the thobe. What was this process like and why was it important to include local businesses in the process?

Marcelo> Collaborating with local businesses was crucial to make sure the Unstainable Thobe respected the traditions and culture from where it came, because no one knows that art and craft better than local tailors and fabric manufacturers.

After many trials and errors, we partnered with them to create an exclusive production process using nanotechnology. We searched the world to find the right technology, but we needed the local expertise to make sure the fabric felt natural. The solution was to apply the nanotech into the yarn of the thread, before it becomes an actual fabric and it worked perfectly! Our main goal was to be able to make a fabric that was not only washable but also breathable and light, especially considering the local weather of temperatures around 45°C with peaks of 55°C during summer.

LBB> How many of these limited-edition thobes were created? And how can someone get their hands on one?

Pablo> We created these thobes to stay, to be a line by Heinz that can later be extended to abayas too. We started with around 1,000 and we’re giving away some of them based on an online competition with local influencers. Anyone that shares their daily struggles of eating while wearing the thobe with us gets the chance to win one of the unstainable thobes.

LBB> The campaign video features Heinz ketchup, its signature font and nods to the brand but how did you decide on using this format for the campaign? What did you want people to take from the spot?

Tiago> ‘Eat fearlessly’. We want Arabs around the world to truly experience what is like to eat without worrying about the mess, just like we would do as kids. We know that we’re going against many Heinz campaigns where the important thing is to value the meal, but here we’re celebrating the eater. This is what matters the most in a region that values its traditions and trying to change that is always a huge challenge. But I think we at least sparked something new into their hearts.

LBB> The spot includes tweets which explain the horrors of trying to keep a thobe clean while eating. Since creating the Unstainable Thobe, what have some of the reactions been like?

Adham> For many it has been like seeing the sun rising after centuries of darkness. Really! It has been too good to be true. My friends and friends of friends all over calling me asking to get one. All I can say to them is to join the line!

LBB> Would you like to share anything else about the campaign with us?

Marcelo> It makes us super happy to see global brands acting on local insight and creating meaningful communications. Not only with campaigns but products that touch moments in people’s lives.

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Wunderman Thompson Dubai, Mon, 10 Oct 2022 15:35:00 GMT