Branding: Honesty is Truly the Best Policy

The lesson: Brands that engage in honest dialogue and respond to complaints will win kudos from social savvy consumers. In contrast, those that don’t come completely clean will lose brand equity.

The Super Bowl was a big disappointment all around this year. The game itself was uneventful and there were no ads that are likely to be remembered. None that we saw on the TV screen, anyways.

Newcastle Brown Ale didn’t put any money into Super Bowl sponsorship, but they did put money into some cheeky storyboards that portray what their Super Bowl ad would’ve been like. According to Newcastle, those ads have garnered a combined  9 million views, more than even some Super Bowl ads posted online. And they did so under the lauded “No Bollocks” moniker.

Newcastle is just one among several brands that have woken up to the value of being earnest. With the widespread advent of social media, people know right away when a brand is lying or full of it. So if you’re beating a family of seals or putting makeup on kittens, the Internet will know. The good news is that brands can get brownie points for coming out and telling the truth.

The most recent example of a company successfully using honesty in their branding comes from McDonald’s Canada. A widely circulated picture on the Internet made it appear that disgusting pink goop, which the industry calls mechanically separated chicken, was in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. McDonald’s responded by literally bringing us inside a plant where chicken was processed and explaining the process.

It’s not the most appetizing process, but it’s not as bad as the pink goop myth either.

The Top 5 Most Strategically-Driven Advertisements of 2013

2013 marked what I like to deem as the start of the “human era.” I’m not alone, as Hill Holliday later released a white paper stating the same thing. More than ever, people crave authentic stories and companies that value them as individuals. The rise of social media has allowed people to cut through the bureaucracy of large companies–to see them for what they are. As such, personable, transparent communications  have never been more important. Advertising built on a sound strategy that helps reduce the distance between brand and consumer, such as the ads featured below, will  continue to come to the forefront in 2014.

*Note: These ads were chosen for their ability to utilize insights effectively, they aren’t necessarily my personal favorites.*

1. Chipotle “Scarecrow”

A continuation of the “Back to the Start” advertisement that has received rave reviews from consumers and industry experts alike. It may not be very popular with marketing execs, but it does have 11.6 million views on YouTube. This ad lines up with a consumer desire to know where their food comes from and to live a more healthy lifestyle. It positions Chipotle as daring enough to take on the establishment. The introduction of an app-based game gives Chipotle another medium to show how they “cultivate a better world.”

2. Skype “Family Portrait” Campaign

Rather than explain the features of Skype, these ads show the end benefit to consumers. Skype connects people; it makes the world a close-knit place. Since Skype is free, barring some extra features, all the ad needs to do is get more people to use Skype.

3. PlayStation 4 “Perfect Day”

The juxtaposition between a classic song and visually aggressive behavior provides the perfect backdrop for what console gaming is about. Men (and it has been mostly male since video games were engendered in the late 1990s) want to play online with their mates as a way of socializing in a competitive environment. No other ads have captured the reason men game better than this one.

4. Coca-Cola “Let’s Go Crazy”

Coca-Cola wanted to spread happiness, but it is tough to do that in today’s world of 24/7 bad news. The folks at DAVID The Agency discovered towards the end of 2012 that kindness was the best way to spread happiness, as 98 percent of consumers agree that it’s the key to a happier world. By highlighting positive stories of people giving, they were able to create a campaign that resonates globally.

5. Toshiba “The Beauty Inside” (crowdsourced short)

Mac is cool, but Toshiba…not so much. That’s the problem Toshiba faced when trying to stay relevant to younger generations.  In response, Pereira & O’Dell created several short films that utilized social sites such as Facebook.  “The Beauty Inside” story spilled onto social media and continued beyond the confines of film. It won several awards and made the Toshiba brand a little more desirable to youth.

Honorable Mentions:

Dove “Real Beauty Sketches”

Famous Footwear “A Letter to Mom”

Dodge Ram “Farmer” (See my criticism)

The Era of Emotional Advertising is Upon Us

I absolutely adore advertising. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t. But ask me a few months ago if I thought that advertising was a form of true art, and I would’ve said no.

You see, to me, art in its highest form is transcendence from the material. It’s the closest one can get to connecting the desires and emotional state of the inside mind with the outside world.  Advertising is created with the express purpose of selling a product or service–materialism–therefore it leaves little room to be defined as art the way I think of it.

However, I feel that the past year has reiterated a sort of transcendence for advertising in and of itself.  Is advertising’s end goal still to sell stuff? Of course, but companies have increasingly been willing to use advertising as a vehicle that speaks to the human condition. And a year of emotionally driven  advertising has reminded me that advertising can indeed be a form of high art.

All this emotional advertising seems to have started a little over a year ago with “Halftime in America“, a commercial for Chrysler by Wieden + Kennedy. The commercial aired during the Super Bowl and spoke directly to a country that, like Chrysler, was down and out. Beautifully written and executed, “Halftime in America”  silenced rooms across the country. Afterwards, other emotionally charged ads  like “Farmer” for Dodge RAM and “Thank You Mom” for P&G appeared.

These ads prove that companies are waking up to the fact that it pays to brand human. Playing to emotions creates brand advocates and it’s good for the bottom line. People don’t want to open their wallet for a giant mega corporation richer than a country, they want to open their wallet to someone that gets them on the most basic level.

4 Recent Ads that Will Make You Cry (With Joy)

1. “Nana” for Cheerios by Saatchi & Saatchi NY

2. “A Letter to Mom” for Famous Footwear by Y&R

3. “The Animal Family” for Skype by Pereira & O’Dell

4.  “Made for Mankind” for Acura by Mullen

Something You Otter Know About Puns

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YOU OTTER KNOW..

It’s Thursday May 22, 2013 and I’m on a dream vacation to San Francisco, birthplace of the great Harvey Milk. I’m about to leave the Aquarium of the Bay after spending 15 minutes–quite the disappointment. This bald fella stands about five feet from an advertisement for the upcoming  Sea Otters exhibit. He stares at it as if trying to figure out a puzzle, tilts his head sideways, and bites his fingernails. After what seems like 10 minutes, his eyes light up and his hand comes out of his mouth. His right index finger extends knowingly. Others ignore the pun completely; it’s not worth the effort.

OTTERLY EXCITING!

Advertisers have an affinity for puns. Entire sites are dedicated to the puns of advertising, like this Tumblr. And there’s been a lot of talk about some truly superb ads lately that have used puns. In my last blog post I highlighted Ship My Pants; it’s no secret that I love that commercial.   And it’s also no secret that I am just generally a fan of puns–even bad ones. It’s all good pun.

But advertising is a form of sales. If the pun befuddles the message that the ad is trying to convey,  that’s wasted dollars. A bad pun might be hilarious to the copywriter creating it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to sell diapers. A good pun, one that most of society can easily get, can make a campaign. A clever, timely pun shows that a brand is tuned into the pulse of culture.

So, advertising, you have my permission to pun (Advertising: “Thanks, Jonathan!”). Please, please, just don’t be lazy about it. Mustard up the courage to put your best foot forward, pepper the ads with your wit, and relish in the  reward.

Four QR codes across a subway track and modern day sexist advertising:  we still need to talk.

Tragedy Strikes, Humanity Reigns

The tragedy yesterday was shocking for all Boston area natives. But for people who are also ad mavens in the making, like me, it was  depressing  how insensitive some national brands were on social media.

How hard would it be to have a human being monitoring a brand’s social media? It’s not like most of these brands can’t afford a social media expert or two. Besides, this tragedy happened when work was still in session across most of the USA, so someone should have been around to stop these promotional tweets from getting out in the first place.

Unfortunately, many brands had their Twitter set to automatically post and no one was able to stop their release. Other brands were able to pull their promotional tweets in time or delete them soon after.

It’s really sad when people are losing life and limb  and all you get from Burger King is a promotion for coffee.

https://twitter.com/beefsteakcharly/status/324056423631831040

In contrast to Burger King, fast food giants like Wendy’s and Taco Bell quickly deleted their  tweets.  But they weren’t able to stop them from going up in the first place. McDonald’s was one of the only major fast food chains to directly respond to the tragedy.

It isn’t all bad in ad land, though. Some New England based companies did more than respond– they acted with heart.  Local restaurant chains Fire+Ice and Joe’s American Bar & Grill passed out food to officers and emergency crew.

On the national level, Southwest Airlines was quick to accommodate people, giving homage to the age-old saying that actions speak louder than words.

This type of response shows the importance of the human element in branding. It’s a reminder that the best brands are driven by interaction and an emotional core–they aren’t mindless robots.