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The Strategy Behind Budweiser’s Super Bowl Ad – Born The Hard Way

3 Feb

bud-2     During America’s most important game, Budweiser may have produced America’s most important and timely message—by accident.

     For the first time in memory, Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad keeps its Clydesdales in the stable and the puppies on a short leash.   This ad reminds viewers of the core values of Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant who risked all to travel an ocean and half the North American continent with nothing more than an idea in his head and drawings in his Journal.   The ad is not selling beer as much as it’s selling an idea.   That idea is that dreams are hard.   And when those dreams are fulfilled it can produce success.

     Called “Born the Hard Way” the ad comes at a timely crossroads when the national discussion about immigration and who has the right to become an American is debated from TV screens to coffee shops.   Not only is the theme familiar, so is the language.   As Adolphus Busch gets his papers stamped in New York you can hear the voices in the crowd shout, “Go back home.  You’re not wanted here.”

    Anheuser-Busch executives say the ad is meant to celebrate the American dream.  In its press release rolling out the ad, Mike Byrne, the chief creative officer of ad agency Anomaly Global said the inspiration came from Budweiser itself.  “When Budweiser told us they wanted to celebrate those who embody the American spirit, we realized the ultimate story lived within their own brand history,” said Byrne.  “Adolphus Busch is the hero of the Anheuser-Busch American dream story, which makes him the perfect protagonist.” attitude-toward-the-ad-001

     The ad’s story has little to do with selling beer and everything to do with building brand equity.  This is not a transactional advertisement trying to convince the viewer that Budweiser is a superior product that offers a unique selling proposition to solve a problem or improve one’s life.   The strategy is to build a positive emotional connection to the brand.   It’s what consumer psychologists and advertising scholar John Eighmey call “attitude toward the ad.”  If the viewer enjoys and likes the advertisement, it is likely to have a positive effect on his or her attitude about the beliefs and expectations of the brand or its product. (Figure 1)   In this case, if you like the ad, you’ll like Budweiser–and just maybe buy a six-pack the next time you’re at the store.  It’s virtually the same psychological formula used in every Super Bowl ad—a popularity contest.

     Many will argue that Anheuser-Busch is trying to make a political statement.  If it was, it’s perhaps by complete accident.  But it’s no accident that people viewing this ad through the lens of their own values and political beliefs have caused the viral explosion of more than 6 million YouTube views even before the big game’s kick off.  Consumer psychologist Richard Bagozzi has established that mood directly influences one’s cognitive processing and attitudes towards advertisements.  If one holds a negative mood toward immigration, they are more than likely to view Budweiser’s ad with a negative feeling.  

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Picture 1

     The time it takes to produce such an ad means that its director Chris Sargent had to start production months before President Trump’s executive orders to temporarily reset the nation’s immigration policies.  Even then, executives at Anheuser-Busch would be reluctant to risk a brand as big as Budweiser by taking a political stand in a highly polarized consumer marketplace.  It would also be naive to believe Budweiser didn’t think it would cause controversy.  This is where it takes a strong brand, and brave marketing executives willing to stimulate discussion.

     Indeed, in the hours leading up to the Super Bowl, Budweiser doubled down on its social media sites inviting followers to learn more about he heritage of the brand by viewing the advertisement.  (Picture 1)

    In some ways the new ad makes sense for Budweiser.  Having temporarily rebranded the beer as “America” last summer, the new ad attaches a powerful story to the name.  But without the horses and dogs Super Bowl viewers have come to expect, Budweiser might be advancing its new message the hard way. 

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El Gordo Christmas Lottery Sells Sharing Over Winning in Latest Tear Jerker Ad

21 Nov

el-gordo-2016-5     The holiday season’s best ad so far is not for a retail store and it’s not even from the United States.  It’s for Spain’s famous Christmas lottery.   First organized in 1812, the Loteria de Navida is the second longest running national lottery in the world.  At more that 2B euros, it’s also the largest.  

     The chance of winning the giant prize, the El Gordo, is a prime motivator to buy tickets.  But in recent years, the lottery has pushed the selling of multiple tickets holding the same number so more people can share in the prize.  Sharing has become part of the culture.  Families, offices, even neighborhood bars now buy group tickets.

     This is where advertising firm Leo Burnett Madrid steps in.  For the past three years it has created the Christmas Lottery ad campaign based on the idea of sharing.  This year’s ad centers around a retired school teacher named Carmina who mistakenly watches a rerun of last year’s draw and thinks she’s won the prize.  Rather than disappoint her, Carmina’s family plays along and creates an elaborate charade.  In the end, they are the ones who are surprised. 

 

appraisal-theory-el-gordo-001

Figure 1

   The lesson of the ad is there’s no bigger prize than sharing.  It’s also a lesson in the powerful use of emotion.   The ad relies upon Appraisal Theory to leverage emotion to persuade the viewer to act. (Figure 1)  As the viewer watches the narrative unfold they are drawn into the story based upon their own experiences of hope and anticipation.  They watch as Carmina’s family cleverly perpetuates her beliefs of winning.  The emotional response to Carmina’s happiness and giving away the very source of the happiness leads the viewer on a powerful journey to consider sharing tickets with their own friends and family members.

 

     “Carmina” is just the latest Christmas Lottery creation of Leo Burnett Madrid.  Last year it gave us “Justino,” the lonely night watchman at a mannequin factory who mischievously brought happiness to the co-workers he never saw.  The ad won the Cannes Loins Cyber Grand Prix award.

 

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Figure 2

     The genius of both “Justino” and “Carmina” is the ads also use Means-End Model to lead the viewers on a journey of discovering higher level values. (Figure 2)  In the case of Justino, those values were about the joys of giving thanks.  With Carmina, it’s about the fulfillment and love that comes from making someone happy.

 

      Sharing has become a key component of the Christmas Lottery.  As a business model, the more tickets people buy to share, the bigger the prizes become.  Using the power of emotion to creatively leverage the act of sharing becomes a higher-level motivator than the simple act of winning.  It’s a concept the agency unveiled with its 2014 ad about “Manuel” who didn’t buy a ticket for himself.

     During a holiday season that revolves around giving and sharing, the Christmas Lottery campaign has found a strategic sweet spot in the hearts of viewers.   In a world-wide climate of 30 second TV spots and 10 second digital ads, Leo Burnett Madrid has bravely raised the bar with long-format creative messaging.   Bring on Christmas 2017.

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Presidential Campaign Ads – What Bernie, Hillary, Cruz and Trump are Really Trying to Say to US

25 Jan

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         Don’t touch that dial.  Despite the more sophisticated uses of social media, big data, and earned media, the political TV ad is far from dead.

         All of the major presidential candidates have so far deployed a limited air campaign in hopes of attracting money and votes.  But as a means of communication, are they effective or even persuasive to their intended audiences?

         There are clear strategies behind the first ads from Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.   At least two of these ads are very similar to product introduction campaigns we would see in the consumer-packaged goods category.   In many respects, the candidates are consumer-packaged products.  But each one takes a different strategy in attracting support through their campaign commercials heading into the voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

         Perhaps the most surprising ad so far comes from one of the most surprising candidates—Bernie Sanders.  In a field where every candidate is in some way shouting at the voters, Sanders found a powerful way connect without saying a word. 

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Screen frame from Bernie Sanders’ “America” campaign ad

         Sanders’ use of the Simon & Garfunkel song “America” underneath the imagery of everyday Americans and people packing into Sanders’ campaign rallies give the illusion of a country longing to re-discover itself.   This is an aspirational ad that plays to our emotions and hopes through the use of a beloved folk song from the late 1960’s.  

         For Millennials, the ad appeals to their need of belonging and their search to build a future in their own image.   For their baby boomer parents, the Simon and Garfunkel song is a powerful priming cue—a time machine that takes them back to their own idealistic youth when they too wanted to “look for America.”  

         Keep in mind, when “America” was recorded in 1968, the country was at a pivotal political and social crossroad.  That year witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and the upheaval at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.   The song that so much appealed to a new generation of Americans at that time has now been re-branded by Sanders as anthem for another new generation.  

          All good advertising should create an emotional bond between the product and the viewer—this one makes a powerful attempt.

         Where Sanders effectively uses nostalgia as an ad strategy, Trump just as effectively uses fear.

         By playing up to voters’ fear of terrorism Trump is effectively using Prospect Theory to mine for votes.   The behavioral economic theory holds that people are more fearful of potential loss than they are assured of a potential gain.   By tying terrorism to immigration, Trump uses those fears to make an argument that he is the candidate who will keep them safe.

 

         Hillary Clinton doesn’t outright use fear as her strategy, but she certainly is trying to appeal to voters’ anxieties about their economic and social struggles.

         In her latest ad, Clinton is not necessarily competing against Sanders, but instead republicans to whom she believes are not looking out for all Americans.

          Her message argument is that she’s fighting for all people who think they don’t have a chance.

 

          Finally, Ted Cruz trumpets his competence and authenticity.

         In many respects he’s re-introducing himself to voters in his latest TV ad as they prepare to head to the polls.   This ad is a clear appeal to rural voters reminding them of his Christian faith, commitment to freedom, and his political accomplishments.  While the ad doesn’t mention any specific opponent, it clearly attempts to differentiate himself from Donald Trump and Marco Rubio as the accomplished conservative in the race.

 

         When you break down all of the ads, there is a distinct strategy to each of them. (Figure 1)  They all have individual targeted audiences and a fairly clear message argument. 

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Figure 1

         Arguably, Sanders may have the most powerfully aspirational ad of them all.  Trump effectively uses fear to motivate us to pay attention to his message.  Clinton plays to our desire to get ahead, and Cruz appeals to his competence help restore America.

         These are just four ads from four of the top candidates.   The race is young.  Stand by… and don’t touch that dial.

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Britain’s John Lewis Gives Us The Best Christmas Ad So Far

16 Nov

John Lewis Spotlight Pix     One of the best advertisements of the holiday season is out.  What makes it remarkable is that it doesn’t just sell a brand, it sells a cause.  That cause is the gift of giving oneself in a different way.  And it comes from a brand that Americans have likely never heard of.

     Britain’s John Lewis department store has built a reputation in recent years for memorable, emotional, and strategic holiday advertisements that lead the viewer on a journey to giving.  This year that journey leads viewers on more than a path of finding the perfect gift within a John Lewis store.

     The brilliance and formula of Lewis’ ad agency adam&eveDDB is that it consistency makes us see Christmas through the innocent eyes of children.   This year that child is a girl named Lily whose inquisitive eyes peer into the heavens in search of the stars but becomes moon struck instead.  Her man on the moon discovery becomes not just a metaphor for giving, but for discovering the elderly living in their own vacuums of space and loneliness.

     The ad is strategically created to use the power of emotion to not just change beliefs and attitudes, but to contribute to Age UK, an agency that works and advocates for the elderly. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 - Donation page to Age UK

Figure 1 – Donation page to Age UK

     Cleverly,  John Lewis takes it a step further.   It created a mobile phone app that allows people game against other users and look up more information on the moon.  By encouraging those users to engage with the app, it creates a new community to interact with the brand.

     It takes a strong and brave brand to shift focus from itself and invest valuable marketing dollars to promote social awareness.   We’ve seen some admirable examples in recent years.  One of my favorites is Chevy’s recent Super Bowl commercial promoting the Purple Roads campaign for cancer survivors.

     Intel also spent a considerable amount of brand equity to convince apathetic viewers that girls can and should change the world.

     Likewise, there’s Coca-Cola.   Coke’s brand has always been about sharing happiness.  After all, it taught the world to sing.  It also recently taught us to share random acts of kindness.

     They’re all brave examples of promoting social awareness.  And for John Lewis, it’s especially fitting to choose the holidays as a time to spread the love and search for the men on the moons hidden right in front of us all.

 

Celebrating SCOTUS Gay Marriage Ruling – Brands That Got it Right and Wrong

30 Jun

 SCOTUS Tweets Blog Pix        Perhaps the only thing that has shifted faster than public opinion on same-sex marriage is the number of brands that have embraced it.

         When the Supreme Court released its landmark decision, many of America’s leading brands were ready.  They instantly posted visual content on social media with the sole intention having people share it—and boost brand awareness. 

Picture 1 - Orbitz Super Bowl XLVII tweet

Picture 1 – Orbitz Super Bowl XLVII tweet

         Ever since Oreo’s pulled off the social media hit of the new millennia with its “dunk in the dark” tweet during the Super Bowl XLVII power blackout, brands have been keen to never again get left in the dark themselves. (Picture 1)

         But jumping on the social media bandwagon creates some inherent risks—especially with such a polarizing issue.  The Supreme Court may have eliminated the legal roadblocks to same-sex marriage, but social acceptance will still be fought in many corners of the country, even many curb cuts of the neighborhood.   Brands face risks on two fronts.  First, they don’t want to come off as opportunists simply trying to sell a product.  Second, they don’t want to alienate a segmented customer base that may be opposed to same-sex marriage.

       Some of the brands that took to Twitter immediately after the SCOTUS decision were very strategic and measured.  Among those that got it right was Delta Airlines.  Where many brands seemed to make their congratulatory messages about themselves, Delta wanted to say something about their employees.  Classy. 

        The branding archetype that is Coca-Cola spoke volumes without saying anything at all.  It didn’t have to.  More than any other global brand, Coke has stood for diversity since it taught the world to sing more than 40 years ago.  Its minimalist tweet represented everything we’ve come to expect and respect about Coke.

         Strong brands have the leverage to make bold statements.  General Mills’ Cheerio’s brand made such a statement more than a year ago when it introduced to America “Gracie” and her mixed race family.  Diversity has become part of the Cheerio’s brand ethos, which is why it was only fitting for it to have something to say about marriage too.

         Maytag may have been the most metaphorically clever.  The two Maytag repairmen are not only “perfect together,” they’re also a subtle reminder that their washers and driers also complete each other. 

         Target is another leading brand that thinks long and hard about messaging.  In this case they built an interactive GIF to say something about marriage and Target.

         Orbitz took a strategically different approach aimed at community building.  Their social media campaign may seem self-serving, but it’s actually an inclusive message promoting interactivity with the brand and offering  a valuable reward—a free vacation.   

          But there were also swings and misses.  Among them, Procter & Gamble.  Its attempt at supporting the Supreme Court ruling was really all about selling soap and toilet paper.

          Likewise with Jet Blue.   Its message seemed to be an afterthought complete with a stock picture. 

          Kellogg’s should get credit for being ready when the Supreme Court decision came down, but their message clearly seemed equally as focused on selling Corn Flakes.

          Social media is always risky especially on polarizing issues.  But as these brands show, there’s a fine line between striking a chord and being tone deaf.

When Super Bowl Ads Are Fun and Strategic

27 Feb

Super Bowl 15 3     The Budweiser puppy is finally home and Doritos showed how with a little ingenuity, pigs really can fly.   The viewers of Super Bowl XLIX have crowned their favorite ads and picked their winners and losers.   But for many advertisers, this is more than a popularity contest.  It’s also their chance to make a unique statement to a targeted audience and asking them to make a specific decision.

     Perhaps the two most creatively strategic ads where ironically from car brands.  Both Fiat and Mercedes Benz used their 60 second TV time-outs to launch new products and showcase them directly to men at opposite ends of the economic ladder. 

      For Fiat, that new product is a sexier, pumped-up, all-wheel drive version of its sub-compact 500, called the 500X.  And, it found a rather creative way to take something small and grow it into something… big.

     Mercedes Benz took a different but equally strategic approach by segmenting upper income men with a message about speed and breaking away from pack of bulky luxury cars.

      These ads did more than entertain.  Both used well recognized story lines to serve as a metaphor to make a highly strategic statement to potential buyers. (Figure 1)  Fiat’s target audience is young urban men who have not yet climbed the economic ladder but want to look smart, hip and slightly sophisticated in their purchases.  With a starting price of $20,000 the Fiat 500X ideally fits into their budget with Fiat making the value proposition that this is the pumped-up sexy car to showcase their lifestyle. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

      Mercedes Benz makes a similar argument, but clearly aimed at highly affluent men who want to live life in the “faster lane.”   Priced at $130,000 this is a car that has a very narrow market segmentation within the luxury car category but makes but makes the appeal that the owner will drive a new race—and be seen differently among his peers.  

Figure 2

Figure 2

      The goal of any advertisement is to drive interest and ultimately sales.  As product introduction ads, initial research suggest they were high successful at placing viewers into the top of the marketing funnel.  Data from Google Trends suggest an exponential increase in web searches on both cars immediately after the Super Bowl.  (Figure 2)

      It helps that both ads have also been viral hits on YouTube gathering millions of more views.  Let’s face it, they’re fun.  And when advertising can be fun and strategic their power only increases.

Best Ads of 2014 — How Storytelling Mattered

31 Dec

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              Exemplary advertising always leads the consumer on a journey.  Often times that journey leads to the decision to buy a product.  In 2014, some of the best ads created journeys to affect attitudes and beliefs about brands and causes.  Their messages didn’t just aim for our heads, they also aimed for our hearts.

                 I’ve compiled a short list of six video advertisements that represent some of the most strategic brand messaging of 2014.  There are other lists of the most viewed, most shared, and most popular, this is simply a compilation of transformational messaging that used narrative storytelling to achieve a specific brand objective.

                 First on the list is a commercial from a brand American’s have never heard of, in a language they can’t speak, yet its message is universal.   DATC is an Indonesian telecom company trying to position itself in a hyper-competitive market.  Instead of creating a western-style campaign staking a claim on price, network coverage, or reliability, DATC’s agency Y&R instead crafted a narrative to lead the viewer on a smart, emotional journey called “The Power of Love.”

              The ad shows how technology can’t replace love, but it can uniquely connect people in moments of love.  The desired action DATC wants consumers to make is to use their phones and network to never miss a loving moment.

                 Chevrolet’s Silverado pickup truck this year made an equally brave and powerful ad.  It leveraged its considerable brand equity to make a statement about cancer–without speaking a word. 

                 The silent schema of a solemn ride down a country road forces the viewer to think deeply about what is, and what is not happening.  The three most powerful cues: the shaved head, the teary eye, and the embraced hands.  Together they force the viewer to create their own story, form a new attitude and create the belief that they can take action by supporting the American Cancer Society.  The underlying message is not about the truck, but the journey of strength the truck allows one to take. 

 

                SaveTheChildren had a daunting task in 2014.  It had to find a way to make the world care about a war that western leaders want no part of.  In this case, they constructed a narrative that could be about the day in the life of any child in any country.  But this not any country, it’s Syria. 

                Its powerful schema leads the viewer on a second-by-second journey of conversion from comfort to conflict.   It uses Appraisal Theory to force one to see the child as if it were their own daughter.  The goal of the ad is to elicit an emotional response that confronts our own beliefs and attitudes about the Syrian War.

                John Lewis is a British department store that has become as well known for its holiday commercials as Macy’s has for its Thanksgiving Day parade.  Once again, John Lewis did not disappoint.

                 The brilliance of this year’s ad uses a little boy’s imaginary penguin named Monty to become the human metaphor of love and sharing.  Think Calvin & Hobbs. The result is a touching narrative about the power of imagination in giving–and the department store that can make it happen.

 

               The World Cup soccer games produced the year’s most viral advertisements, but the one that I will argue created the most power came from the Bank of Chile. 

               Chile’s soccer team was placed in the same World Cup division as top-seeded teams Netherlands and Spain.  Soccer fans called it the “death group” because no other teams survived.  In this case, no men were better suited carry the Chilean flag than the trapped Chilean miners who stared down death and won.  The salient message from the Bank of Chile is that it is the bank which can build impossible dreams.

Figure 1 - Means-Ends Model

Figure 1 – Means-Ends Model

                 Finally, the 2014 Winter Olympics crowned a new series of world-class athletes, but the BBC created gold of its own for a cognitively powerful advertisement promoting its broadcast coverage of the games. 

                 Both the BBC and the American network NBC used a means-end model in how they promoted their Olympics coverage. (Figure 1)  NBC appealed to humanity where the BBC used mythology.   Its man vs. nature promotional approach set up its coverage to beckon the viewer to witness immortality in the making–becoming one with the Gods.  That’s powerful.

 

                  We’ve come a long way from the great recession when risk averse consumer messaging was all about boosting immediate sales.   In the past two years brands once again feel free to think strategically about positioning themselves along the consumer’s emotional curve to create relationships and sharable moments to last beyond the next quarterly report.  The result is advertising that’s not just gutsy, but smart, and yes, fun!

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