What The COVID-19 Pandemic Really Needs – A Communicator

17 May

     Yes, the world needs a vaccine.  But until scientists create one, we need communicators too.  

      In times of crisis, leadership of course matters.  But so do words.  In a fast moving multi-channel, multi-platform world where communication networks are no longer linear and centralized, finding authentic voices to coalesce around a unifying message has never been more difficult or important.   Our elected leaders command a bully pulpit that gives them not just great opportunities to lead with their words, but equally great responsibility.  It’s one thing to hold daily news conferences, it’s quite another to persuade, inspire, and drive attitudes.

       Ultimately, historians will judge whether our leaders such as President Donald Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci and many of our state governors have risen to this high mantel.  But one leading epidemiologist believes that on a national level, no one has—yet.  Dr. Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota along with three other academic colleagues recently released a paper projecting three scenarios for the progression of the COVID-19 virus.  The scenario that they believe government and healthcare leaders need to prepare for is a second, more powerful wave of the virus to emerge in the fall.  And Osterholm believes there is a national vacuum of urgency.

       “Generally, I think our leaders at the state level are doing an incredible job, as have most of the governors across the country,” said Osterholm when I spoke with him.

       But on a national level, Osterholm is looking for a voice from the past to come forward to the future.  “What I’m looking for is an FDR for a fire side chat.  Or, a Winston Churchill. There are going to be some really tough days ahead, and we need to be brining people together instead of splitting them apart.”

 

       In one important aspect, part of Osterholm’s wish is granted, although not in America.  It’s a voice that represents the past and the present—Queen Elizabeth II.  In her April 5th speech to the United Kingdom, the queen represented the pinnacle of Aristotelian persuasion.  She embodied ethos, or credible and ethical appeal.  The queen in her own properly stoic English way projects pathos, or emotional appeal based upon her experience in the Royal Family during some of Britain’s darkest hours.  And finally, she exhibited logos, or logical appeal to reinforce her message of resilience.   She did it all in just four and a half minutes.

       The queen proves long held communication theory that the messenger enhances the message.  This is precisely what Aristotle meant by his term ethos.  Yale psychologist Carl Hovland called it a source effect.  Hovland and his academic colleagues led research in the 1950’s that would become known as the Yale Studies of persuasion.  They determined that the source effect—or messenger—be it a celebrity, expert, or person of authority was among the four essential effects for a cognitive learning process that led to changing attitudes.  In the queen’s case, one could argue she is a celebrity, expert, and authority figure wrapped in one.  And because she is a beloved figure with an 81% approval rating in the U.K., her message is looked upon with more reverence and credibility than perhaps a similar message from a polarizing figure such as President Trump who struggles to maintain at best a 50% approval rating.

     But part of what makes the queen’s address so powerful is what Hovland would call the message effect.   Her words are deliberate in how they warn of darker times to come, yet reassuring that as a country Britain is up to the fight like so many it has faced in the past.   She also steals rhetorical tricks from the ancient Greeks, Shakespeare and Lennon.  Her use of polyptonton—repeated words—and periodic sentence structure cements the message in the mind.

 “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

                The repeated words, ‘we will,’ and ‘again’ are a rallying cry.  They stick to the brain.  She stole it from Churchill who so strongly used his own polyptonton in 1940:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

       To this day many believe Churchill was talking about the allied invasion of Europe.  In reality, he was talking about a German invasion of Britain.  Eighty years later, Queen Elizabeth is rallying the country against the invasion of a virus.  Part of the enormous gravity in both passages is the periodic sentence structure that saves the most powerful verbs until the very end: meet again; never surrender.

       There has also been another voice.  This one comes from the not so distant past—President George W. Bush.

      President Bush’s message is also a call to action.  “We all need to do our part,” said the former president. 

     To be sure, President Bush was a leader who sometimes struggled as an orator.  He often made light of himself as someone who mangled the English language.  But his sincerity and empathy were rarely ever in doubt and that was in full display here, too.

     “Let us remember that empathy and simple compassion are powerful tools in our national recovery,” said Bush.  “We rise and fall together.  And we are determined to rise.”

     This too, Aristotle and Hovland would argue makes the messenger and the message incredibly powerful.

     Dr. Osterholm is right.  We need a national voice.  Not just a voice from the past, we need them from the present. 

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The Best PSA on Social Distancing – Ohio’s Little Power(ful) Ball

12 Apr

    For the past three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors, epidemiologists and government leaders across the globe have tried to preach the necessity of social distancing.  The State of Ohio just did it in thirty seconds.

    The Ohio Department of Health and Dayton marketing agency Real Art are using a ping-pong ball and mousetraps to send a striking message about how this virus spreads and the effectiveness of staying apart and flattening the infection curve.

    The brilliance of the message is its simplicity.  Persuasive public communication and advertising is always most effective when it uses strong metaphors in human form, or to represent human activity.  In this case the single ball represents a single infected person setting off the jaws of contagion in crowded spaces.  In contrast, is also shows how proper spacing allows that same infected person to pass through without any damaging contact.

    But the simple before-and-after illustration is also a powerful teaching tool in the Theory of Trying.  Consumer behavior researchers Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warsaw developed the theory to show how intentions don’t always lead to a specific action.  In some cases, there is a goal evaluation based upon the risk of failure.  In the case of social distancing, the Ohio public service announcement clearly frames its argument both in terms of loss and gain.   In tight quarters it illustrates the consequences of failing to social distance balanced against the possibilities of success.   The framing primes one’s attitude toward trying to social distance and hopefully leads to a decision and action.

    Playing in parallel with the Theory of Trying in this PSA is Prospect Theory.  The well-established and utilized theory by Daniel Kahneman is essentially an economics theory that holds people are motivated more by a potential loss than by the possibility of a gain.  It won Kahneman the Nobel Prize in 2002 and has been the cornerstone of many successful political campaigns from Lynden Johnson to Donald Trump.  For better or worse, Trump masterfully used Prospect Theory in his 2016 presidential campaign to steer attitudes and votes based upon perceived losses to America from immigration, trade, and crime.  Likewise, President Johnson used Prospect Theory in his famous “Daisy” ad against Barry Goldwater in 1964.

    The simple ad showed a girl pulling the petals off a daisy that morphed into the countdown of a nuclear explosion.  The implied message was that Goldwater would lead to nuclear war.  The ad was so strong it only aired once.  Johnson won in a landslide.  In the Ohio ping-pong ball PSA, the loss is framed in terms of easily spreading the virus and getting stung by the traps.

    But the chief power of the Ohio flatten the curve campaign is its metaphoric simplicity.  Who knew a little ball could tell such a strong story.  The Ohio Department of Health did—it’s their own little Power Ball.

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Social Pressure in the Age of COVID-19

29 Mar


   From the time we were in middle school, adults pressured us not to be pressured by peer pressure.  But in the midst of a public health crisis, peer pressure has become among the main communications strategies from government leaders and social media influencers in slowing the COVID-19 contagion.

    The message: save lives—stay home.

    Among the social media stars jumping on board is actress Emma Watson.

    The evolving messaging is firmly grounded in long established psychological theory.  Research by Martin Fishbein and Icek Azjen shows how action is based not just on our attitude about committing to a certain behavior, but also what society expects us to do.  Fishbein and Azjen called it subjective norms.   The more positive feelings that are shaped about one’s attitude for the behavior, combined with the attitude toward doing what’s expected of them, are predictors of a certain behavior or action.   The resulting Theory of Reasoned Action has become a bedrock tool not just in public health campaigns, but social responsibility movements and advertising.

Figure 1

     The COVID-19 pandemic led to the public health necessity for populations to immediately restrict person-to-person contact to limit the spread of the virus.  Both political and health leaders have issued stay-at-home orders to hopefully slow the growth of infections long enough for hospitals to expand their capacity to treat patients.  The simple message:  if you stay home you will save lives.  That’s pressure.

     The breakdown of Theory of Reasoned Action, or TRA, as it applies to the pandemic is fairly simple. (Figure 1)  One’s attitude about staying home is combined against the social norm of staying home.  The combined attitudes directly affect the attitude of acting which leads to the action.

     The TRA strategy is the cornerstone of the CDC’s pubic communications campaign put together by the AD Council.

    Whether he knows it or not, President Trump has played a partial role in building and reinforcing the social norm.   During one of his recent White House briefings he told Americans their actions on social distancing were “saving many, many lives.”   To be sure, in this age of political tribalism, one’s attitudes toward the controversial president are an independent variable in whether to act upon anything he recommends.  But in this case he makes the powerful appeal for others, not himself.

    Clearly, there are more influencers than just the president.  Collectively, social media stars and athletes such as Minnesota Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi are applying their own pressure.

 

Figure 2

    Social pressure in public campaigns is nothing new.  The foundations of TRA go back to WWII when the War Advertising Council employed peer pressure to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.  One of their most famous campaigns created posters to change attitudes about home front discussions of anything related to war production and troop movements.  The resulting messaging was “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” (Figure 2)

    Arguable one of the most successful Ad Council campaigns in the past 75 years has been Smokey Bear.  The strategy to increase fire suppression relied on a societal expectation that preventing forest and wildlife destruction was an individual action.  The message was clear and simple: “Only you can prevent forest fires.” 

    Fast forward to 2020 and the same message is reapplied to COVID-19.  Only you can help save lives—maybe your own.  That’s powerful peer pressure.

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Super Bowl Ads 2019 – The Most Popular May Not Be the Most Strategic

5 Feb

IMG_0816     There were clearly two games on Super Bowl Sunday, the battle on the field and the battle during time outs.   This year, major brands spent more than $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime to compete for your attention and social media approval.  Viewers have already spoken on tracking sites such as USA Today’s Ad Meter as to which commercials were their favorites.  But when brands spend this much money to promote a message, it needs to fulfill a focused business strategy that’s more tangible than simply winning a popularity contest.

     In several cases, there were brands that successfully married a core business strategy with an entertaining, if not an emotional appeal to the viewer to know something and perhaps feel something about their product.  The goal of course, is to position the brand and the product in the mind of the viewer when they are making a purchasing decision.   I’m singling four key business strategies clearly on display during Super Bowl LIII and perhaps the best creative examples of how individual brands executed them.

Switch Brands/Products: Stella Artois

     One of the strategies marketers use to increase sales is to convince consumers to switch brands or products and purchase theirs instead.  That’s exactly the strategy on display in Stella Artois’ Super Bowl entry.  In this case, Stella sees its competition as premium cocktails.  They creatively use the concept of humor and star power to build a narrative about not being afraid to “change up the usual.”

     The genius of casting Sarah Jessica Parker is that her best-known character is synonymous with cosmopolitans.  Likewise, The Dude, Jeff Bridges drinks only white Russians.  Not anymore.  The strategic message here: if Carrie Bradshaw and The Dude can switch products, so can you.

Product Introduction:  Mercedes Benz, Microsoft

    If you’re a global brand needing wide exposure to launch a new product or innovation, the Super Bowl is the best platform on the planet.  It’s exactly why you see so many ads each year unveiling new car models.  Enter Mercedes Benz.  The point of differentiation in its new A-Class sedan is that one can customize the driving experience with simple voice commands.  The ad is strategic in its message, target audience, desired response.  The ad is squarely aimed at achiever millennial men who like experiential settings and crave creative control.  The targeted message: say the word to change your car.   The desired response: if your car doesn’t do this, come test drive ours.

     Microsoft hit the emotional bulls eye with its ad called “We all win.”  But this too is really a product introduction for its new adaptive game controller.  It features the little boy Owen who we met last Fall in another brilliant Microsoft ad about children and the equal playing field of gaming.  In this ad, Owen and other children like him demonstrate how with Microsoft’s new adaptive controller, disabilities become abilities.   While this may be a new product marketed to parents and children with physical barriers, its broader audience is all of us.   In this ad Microsoft is challenging us to change our views on what it means to be disabled and how technology elevates us all.

Rate of Use:  Mr. Peanut

    Another strategy that brands use to improve sales is to encourage consumers to buy their product more often.  That’s the core strategy behind Planter’s Mr. Peanut ad.  Again, this ad is very strategic in its message, audience, and desired action.  Planter’s cleverly uses humor and a schema of Mr. Peanut trying to save sports fans from a snacking emergency.  The brand uses former baseball star Alex Rodriguez to target sports watching men by encouraging them to buy Planters mixed nuts next time you need a crunchy, wholesome snack. 

Product Attributes: Amazon, Google

    Sometimes the strategy is about increasing sales through highlighting a unique product function.  In Amazon’s case, highlighting what its artificial intelligence speaker Alexa can, and most importantly, should not do.  Amazon used the star power of Harrison Ford to not only poke fun at itself with supposed Alexa misfires, but in doing so also hinting at the useful tasks Alexa can do.  The ad entertains and implores us to use Alexa more often for the stuff that didmake the cut.

    Google also gave us an admirable ad about a specific function of its search engine to help veterans with the military codes that are unique to them.  The ad reminds them that no simple code defines them, but can help them search for what’s next.  It takes a brave and secure brand to talk about others more than itself, and Google gave us a message that is both memorable and useful.

    Together, these ads may not be among the most popular among Super Bowl viewers, but they all creatively target a specific audience with a clear business purpose. At the end of the game, these ads need to help brands achieve their goals.  Winning a popularity contest is nice, but if the ads don’t help the brand move sales, market share, or awareness, then they were perhaps a waste of the millions it cost o produce and air.

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Best Christmas Ads Ever–How John Lewis Sells Gift Giving as a Value

23 Dec

John Lewis 4           We’ve reached the advent of capitalism’s most important holiday… Christmas.

    But instead of brands trying to sell us objects and products all in the name of quarterly sales goals and corporate profits, what if they bent the value curve and sold a different kind of equation?

    British department store John Lewis has.  They’ve done it for years, and once again implore us to think of Christmas as an idea.  That idea is giving something of one’s self and thereby changing yourself and the person you love.   They do it not through product demonstration or a heavy-handed sales pitch, but instead through powerful schematic storytelling.

   This year’s John Lewis Christmas commercial, or advert as they’re called in Britain, follows in the store’s long tradition of inviting its customers to think differently about the holiday.  Each year, the John Lewis advert becomes the most anticipated and most shared piece of strategic advertising communication in the UK.  For 2018, they take viewers by the hand and lead them on the musical journey of the child who would become one of the world’s most enduring pop stars.  

    With its newest advert, John Lewis is sending a very specific and powerful message—give the gift that will change someone’s life.  Of course the implicit message is, if it changed Elton John’s life, imagine what it can do for someone else.

    The brilliance of the John Lewis Christmas ads over the years is that they use inviting and compelling characters that make the viewer think deeply about story. Firmly grounded Appraisal Theory, the viewer aligns the story with their own life experiences and creates a powerful emotional response about both the ad and their attitude toward the brand.

    By far, their most powerful advert was 2014’s Monty the Penguin with its simple message of buying someone the gift they’ve been dreaming of.

    For John Lewis, it’s more than just changing our attitudes on gifts.  It has also implored us to change our attitudes on society.   In 2015, its Christmas advert “Man on the Moon” focused its attention on the elderly.  The campaign turned a corner by partnering Age UK to bring awareness to the loneliness of many senior citizens.  The proceeds from the sale of specific items at John Lewis all went to the Age UK charity.

   More than two thousand years ago the Book of Matthew told of three men who originated the idea of giving.  Their gifts to the Christ child of gold, incense, and myrrh were about those higher-level values of innocence and honor.  John Lewis on a different level implores us to think about that too. It’s about the idea of giving—and changing someone’s life.  That’s a brand value worth taking to the bank.

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Old School Speech Lessons for the Modern World — Kissinger’s Eulogy to Sen. John McCain

29 Sep

    As time has passed since the passing of the late Sen. John McCain, this is a good time not to pass over one of the better eulogies in his memory and the lessons it offers to communicators. 

    At McCain’s own request, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama led the eulogies and stole the headlines.  McCain wanted it that way.  He wanted the world to see that in America we settle political scores at the ballot box and thereafter break bread at the table of ideals.  But buried among the communion crumbs was a speech that students of political and social rhetoric should take note.  It came from none other than Henry Kissinger.   

    In many respects, these two men share nothing in common, and yet everything in common.  Separated by a generation, they represent different chapters in American history. Kissinger’s coming of age came during a time when American power was ascending, McCain’s came when American power was fracturing.  But Kissinger’s flight from Nazi tyranny formed his views on the ideals and values of America every bit much as communist captivity formed McCain’s. 

IMG_9262

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Meghan McCain were among the speakers eulogizing the late Senator John McCain at his September 1st funeral.

    The former Secretary of State under President Nixon, and co-recipient of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War is not especially noted for his oratory.  The plodding, bookish, and deliberative elder statesman speaks with a heavy German-accented monotone that is the antithesis 21stcentury talking heads. But his eulogy of Sen. McCain was a speech writing lesson in structure, substance and delivery. 

    By contemporary standards his eulogy was short, just 738 words.   But it carried exponentially more power, focus and ultimately a more forceful persuasion of McCain’s legacy than did a wandering speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman who rambled for more than 20 minutes, often times talking more about himself.  Kissinger’s eulogy had a clear beginning, middle, and end.  In the first two sentences, he tells the audience what the speech is all about—one of history’s great personalities that remind us of unity and sustaining values.  “John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny,” said Kissinger.  Every word that followed supported and transcended this notion.

    Kissinger powerfully attempted to prove that gift of destiny with an admission of his own guilt.  Guilt about what he too didn’t do in life and what he couldn’t do.  The former diplomat acknowledged that he had the chance to free McCain during his negotiations with Hanoi to end the Vietnam War.  McCain thanked his captors for the offer, but refused. Kissinger had to wait until 1973 to finally meet McCain at a White House reception for several prisoners who were finally freed.  Kissinger remembered, “When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. ‘Thank you for saving my honor.’”  It was all because as Kissinger noted, that in the McCain family national service was its own reward that did allow for special treatment.

    Kissinger noted that McCain, too, returned to an America divided over its presidency and the direction of the country. Perhaps in an affront to the current administration, Kissinger skillfully challenged the notion that America cannot retreat from the world stage.   McCain, he said, would never allow for it.  “In this manner John McCain’s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to the powerful to be loyal and reach out to the oppressed,” said Kissinger.

    Perhaps most powerfully, Kissinger reflected upon his own failings as a world leader to instill hope and set for a call for action.  “Like most people my age, I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored,” reflected Kissinger.  He then hypothesized that if beauty and youth are fleeting and short lived, then sacrifice for the greater good is ultimately what endures—qualities McCain proved.

    His conclusion was as short and strong as his “gift of destiny” beginning.   As if to put an exclamation point on his opening sentence, Kissinger declared, “The world will be lonelier without John McCain.” But in perhaps a tribute to the late Senator he challenged all Americans to fill the void.  Kissinger concluded, “Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.”

     But it was more than Kissinger’s words.  Students of speech and communicators who want to better connect with their audiences should also pay close attention to Kissinger’s delivery. He spoke in short, declarative sentences.  Each one commanded its own power.  They willed the listener to pay attention.  In a teleprompter world, Kissinger goes back to an era where oratory was delivered from paper and memory, not from glass.  For reference, go back and watch every JFK speech, especially his “We choose the moon” address.  It’s a skillset where the speaker delivers no more words than the simple sentences and thoughts in front of him.  With this style, Kissinger created a cadence and rhythm that drew in the listener.

      It was certainly not the most talked about eulogy of John McCain.  McCain’s daughter, Meghan delivered her own powerfully emotional and political charged memorial to her father.  In a headline news world, Kissinger didn’t make the cut.  But for communicators his words deserve serious study because they offer a highly focused rhetorical map in a Google Maps world.

Here is the text of Henry Kissinger’s eulogy on Sen. McCain:

   Our country has had the good fortune that at times of national trial a few great personalities have emerged to remind us of our essential unity and inspire us our sustaining values. John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny. 

   I met john for the first time in April, 1973 at a White House reception for prisoners returned from captivity in Vietnam. He had been much on my mind during the negotiation to end the Vietnam War, oddly also because his father, then commander in chief of the Pacific command, when briefing the president answered references to his son by saying only “I pray for him.” 

   In the McCain family national service was its own reward that did not allow for special treatment. I thought of that when his Vietnamese captors during the final phase of negotiations offered to release John so that he could return with me on the official plane that had brought me to Hanoi. Against all odds, he thanked them for the offer but refused it. When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. “Thank you for saving my honor.” He did not tell me then or ever that he had had an opportunity to be freed years earlier but had refused, a decision for which he had to endure additional periods of isolation and hardship. Nor did he ever speak of his captivity again during the near half century of close friendship. 

   John’s focus was on creating a better future. As a senator, he supported the restoration of relations with Vietnam, helped bring it about on a bipartisan basis in the Clinton administration and became one of the advocates of reconciliation with his enemy. Honor, it is an intangible quality, not obligatory. It has no code. It reflects an inward compulsion, free of self interest. It fulfills a cause, not a personal ambition.  It represents what a society lives for beyond the necessities of the moment. Love makes life possible; honor and nobility. For john it was a way of life. 

   John returned to America divided over its presidency, divided over the war. Amidst all of the turmoil and civic unrest, divided over the best way to protect our country and over whether it should be respected for its power or its ideals. John came back from the war and declared this is a false choice. America owed it to itself to embrace both strengths and ideals in decades of congressional service, ultimately as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John was an exponent of an America strong enough to its purpose. 

   But John believed also in a compassionate America, guided by core principles for which American foreign policy must always stand. “With liberty and justice for all” is not an empty sentiment he argued, it is the foundation of our national consciousness. To John, American advantages had universal applicability. I do not believe he said that there’s an errant exception any more than there is a black exception or an Asian or Latin exception. He warned against temptation of withdrawal from the world. In this manner John McCain ‘s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to oblige the powerful to be loyal and give hope to the oppressed.

   John lines of all these battles for decency and freedom. He was an engaged warrior fighting for his causes with a brilliance, with courage, and with humility. John was all about hope. In a commencement speech at Ohio’s Wesleyan University John summed up the essence of his engagement of a lifetime. “No one of us, if they have character, leaves behind a wasted life.” Like most people of my age I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored. If the happy and casual beauty of youth prove ephemeral, something better can endure and endure until our last moment on Earth and that is the moment in our lives when we sacrifice for something greater than ourselves. Heroes inspire us by the matter of factness of their sacrifice and the elevation of the root vision. 

   The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty. None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America. Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.

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2018 Best Super Bowl Ads That Aren’t Dilly, Dilly

2 Feb

Super Bowl Ads.002       

    The NFL’S Super Bowl is often called the Super Bowl of advertising.  As the league’s best teams square off for the Lombardi Trophy, the world’s biggest brands square off for relevance and sales glory in front of a global audience.  It is the one place where the world’s most creative advertising minds compete for a high stakes game in creating brand value and boosting market share.

     There will be many polls and surveys by the end of the game determining the favorite ads among viewers.  Among them, USA Today’s Ad Meter, which gives viewers the opportunity to watch all of the released ads and vote.  But at $5 million a spot to air, this is more than a popularity contest.  It has to drive sales.  That’s why the best of these ads come with a highly focused game day strategy aimed at a specific audience, with a specific message, asking them to take a specific action.

     Of all of the pre-released ads, six of them stand out for their highly creative focused strategies.

Amazon: Alexa Loses Her Voice    

    Amazon’s ad called “Alexa Loses Her Voice” is one of this year’s best—and not just because it’s funny.   The ad asks viewers to contemplate a whimsical “what if?”  What if Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker actually lost her voice?  The ad features a cameo from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who is assured that there are emergency back ups.

     Part of the creative brilliance of this ad is the writers take the viewer on a journey of surprises—each one engaging deeper thought into the story, the product, and the conclusion that the substitutes voices are a total disaster.   The ad successfully puts Alexa into a human form with the help of Chef Ramsey and Rebel Wilson only to show that humans are not as smart at Alexa.  

     The metaphors are not just funny—they’re powerful.  Amazon is strategically targeting not just its own Alexa users, but consumers who want to become smart speaker adopters.  In a marketplace where Amazon is competing with Google and now Apple for smart speaker market share, its message is to avoid the imitators because there’s only one Alexa.

Kia Stinger:  Feel Something Again

    I’ll make the prediction now that Kia’s “Feel Something Again” ad will not be among the most popular in the post game surveys, but I’ll argue it’s among the most strategic and brilliantly creative of the ads.

     In advertising terms this is called a product introduction ad.  Kia believes that its new 2018 365 horsepower Stinger car is a legend in the making.  And who better to establish its legendary status than a faceoff between racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi and rock legend Steven Tyler.   The ad is strategically targeted toward baby boomer men wanting to feel young again.  After all, no one under 50 will recognize Fittipaldi let alone know who he is—or was.  And Tyler is no fountain of youth himself.   But one of the creative giveaways in the message is when Tyler walks past the picture of his younger self and then keeps seeing the same image in the rear view mirror.

     Using a musical riff of Tyler’s “Dream On” this is an ad about nostalgia.  It metaphorically makes the message argument about racing backwards to one’s long lost wild side–it’s a supercharged time machine.  The desired response from viewers is to come test drive the Stinger for themselves.   The strategic message is that if you, like Steven Tyler are longing for your own Fountain of Youth, it just so happens Kia has a new car to drive you there.

Michelob Ultra:  I Like Beer

     Of all of the beer ads, Michelob is the only one to come to the Super Bowl with a highly focused game plan and unique selling proposition.  This ad is both nostalgic and contemporary.   The ad for Michelob Ultra takes Tom T. Hall’s classic drink til you drop sing-along-song and collides it against Rocky.  Unlike the fuzzy Super Bowl strategy for AB Inbev’s other brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, this one is highly focused.  It targets middle-aged achievers and adventurers who count carbs along with their workout reps. The desired response is to switch brands—Ultra is the new “tastes great, less filling” beer. The message argument here is simple: the beer you like for the body you like.

Febreze:  The Only Man Whose Bleep Don’t Stink

     Meet Dave.  His bleep don’t stink.  This simple and creative assault against a favorite insult takes a new whiff on an age-old complication: bathroom odor.   This is a classic problem-solution ad.  The creative idea by ad agency Grey New York is to use humor.  It works.  Proctor and Gamble makes this a duel strategy ad.  For consumers who don’t know Febreze now makes bathroom spray, this is a product introduction.  For those consumers already using Febreze Air, this is a rate of use ad—encouraging them to stock up for the Super Bowl party.

M&M’s:  Human

     Advertising researcher and retired University of Minnesota Professor John Eighmey likes to argue that the most effect advertising puts the product into human form. Amazon’s Alexa did it with Chef Ramsey and Rebel Wilson.  And now M&M’s does it with Danny DeVito.  By making the red M & M human, it makes a direct cognitive connection to the message argument that M&M’s are more than just candy—they’re fun!  The ad is targeted not just at other candy lovers to switch brands, but also at lapsed M&M’s users who need to be reminded about the simple pleasure of portable, easy to eat candy.  The targeted and strategic message to candy lovers is that M&M’s are your lucky penny, find a bag and live a little.

Coca-Cola:  The Wonder of Us

     I’ll admit it.  I’m a sucker for Coca-Cola.   But Coke Classic has a problem.   Its gloriously satisfying sugar-filled bottle is a product that long ago matured in a marketplace demanding reduced sugar beverages.  Coca-Cola now has to retrain its customers to think of Coke not as a single product, but as a brand with many Coke products.  That’s exactly the strategy behind this year’s Super Bowl ad.

     It begins with a childhood game of spin the bottle, a metaphor for the unexpected joys in life that have long been the core of Coca-Cola’s brand image.   It wastes no time in hitting the new strategic message, “There’s a Coke for all of us.”   The ad implores us to understand that, “No feet have wandered where you’ve walked.”   This is all about individualism.  In a marketplace where consumes want customized experiences and products, Coke is reminding us that they have drinks as unique as we are.    In telling us that there is a Coke “for we and us” it pays homage the great Coca-Cola branding of the past that simply wanted to teach the world to sing.  The great harmony and power of the Coke brand is that it’s always been about inclusion and sharing.   Coke is now reminding us that in addition to sharing a Coke, the new harmony is in sharing yourself.

     Together these are six ads that take a creative, yet very business-like approach to the Super Bowl.  They may not be among the most popular after the big game, but I’ll argue they are among the most strategic.   There are plenty of ads that offer up “Dilly, Dilly.”  But if they don’t achieve business goals, they’re just silly, silly.

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