Busting Taboos To Build Brands: Inside The Gut Stuff Strategy
Working with Revolt, The Gut Stuff brand has turned embarrassment into a thriving business
07 June 2023
From periods to incontinence, thrush to wind, brands are increasingly flexing their creativity to liberate us from the old inhibitions around what used to be bodily taboos.
The latest brand to build a community of engaged consumers around taboo-busting is the health and wellness business The Gut Stuff. Launched by DJ-ing twins Lisa and Alana Macfarlane, The Gut Stuff is an app, a range of high fibre fruit and nut bars, and an information hub. The company's founders also front a Channel 4 series, Know Your Sh!t.
Working with the purpose consultancy Revolt, The Gut Stuff’s brand strategy follows a simple and single red thread: getting the nation to talk about gut health by breaking the poo taboo. From this approach and thought came posters, special build billboards, books, podcasts, national press coverage and the Channel 4 show.
It's a strategy and creative thought that has raised awareness of a health issue that impacts a huge proportion of the UK. The idea was to make the inaccessible science and gut health information fun, using the brand’s trademark wit and distinctive pink balloon device to get the nation talking, doing this through a range of poo taboo breaking executions.
Using the Bristol Stool Chart to help consumers understand gut health, and the impact of different treatments on it, this previously inaccessible information was placed on streets across the UK.
The OOH poster campaign led to £5m worth of earned media from just £100,000 investment, driving website traffic up by 300 per cent and sales up 127 per cent.
Meanwhile the TV show became the top unscripted show on Channel 4 since January 2022, being watched by 1.7 million people with almost zero drop off across the series and achieving 137 pieces of press coverage with a total print circulation of 39.3 million people.
We sat down with The Gut Stuff founder and CEO Lisa Macfarlane to discuss the power of breaking through taboos to build communities and attract customers.
Creative Salon: We've seen great strides made by brands such as Bodyform and Canesten. Are we more open to conversations around bodily functions now and what has fuelled this trend?
Lisa Macfarlane: I think its been accelerated by how we can share educational information, with short form content and new platforms we can use comedy and storytelling in better ways. It takes the conversation out of school classrooms and into the spaces that are less judgemental and (ironically!) more private to watch and learn.
Brands have become less scared, you can’t play neutral anymore you have to pick a POV which in the past companies and brands have been told not to do as fear of losing market share. Now you lose market share if you don’t have a POV.
Is this "taboo-breaking" something that women are more comfortable with than men?
I think women are just more comfortable talking about it on public forums, our Instagram following and interaction is very heavily female – but our website and “in person” events and informal conversations is much more equal even more men.
At weddings or parties I think a man has asked me about gut health at every single one, giving me pretty personal information.
Is it something younger people are more comfortable with?
Definitely! We’ve noticed the generation after us are keen to identify with and attach themselves to particular causes and have so many platforms to be vocal about them on. Anecdotally my memory of being in my teens was following the crowd and trying not to stand out. Now its much more about standing out with your values and with the digital platforms niches don't exist anymore you can find support for your beliefs where before you weren’t sure if anyone out there thought the same thing.
What do 'taboo' brands or brands dealing with taboo subjects need to know about what types of consumer are more receptive?
I think if you’re trying to target and get granular on a particular consumer base, you need to think broader – put as much as you can out there that you believe in and personal experience and you’ll find your champions along the way!
We’ve got who we think is our audience wrong every time, and it's because the reality is, everyones got guts. And because no one talks about it, you wont know who’s having issues/wants to change theirs until you make the noise for them!
Are these brand-led conversations still more effective in private spaces such as specialist online platforms or are we ready as a society for open acceptance of these subjects?
I think there’s absolutely room for both – using big noise and campaigns will help people get to the platforms/healthcare professionals and resources they need – everyone has to work together. Also more commonly now brands are doing both and specialist platforms are having to become “brands”.
Health and wellness is the fastest growing globally category it also often the furthest behind in branding and creative. People buy brands that will never change so wherever you want to engage people you need a strong brand.
How important is it for 'taboo' brands to build communities that can share experiences and learnings with each other?
Crucial! We built our brand and community before our business, doing it backwards can also have its drawbacks, but now we have over 200,000 extended members of our team, who will tell us which direction to take the business in.
How much are consumers looking to brands for scientific, even medical, advice on these taboo subjects and how can brands best tread the line between promotional communications and proper advice and hard information?
It’s a tightrope we walk everyday, but we’ve always felt the moral weight of that on our shoulders and have hired accordingly. Compliance, expertise and credibility in the team is something we’ve had to put first. Alana and I bring the pop culture comms and experience, but its always through the lens of our experts first. I think promotional comms and advice go hand in hand if your mission is to truly educate, and it's not just an “add on”. I always find it strange when people talk about content as an “extra” – its literally the core of our business.