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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.

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Best Ads of 2014 — How Storytelling Mattered

31 Dec

Collage 2

              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!

Mo’ne Davis Throws a World Series Strike for Girls… and Chevy

28 Oct

       From a distance of sixty feet and six inches, the pitch was money.  Actually, it was Mo’ne.  A strike, right down the middle.  It came from a girl, just 13 years old.  And by the end of game four of the World Series, it was just the first of several strikes that made Mo’ne Davis the advertising world’s latest pitchwoman. 

Mo'ne Davis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2014

Mo’ne Davis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2014

         To say Davis has had a good year would be as much of an understatement as saying Derek Jeter did nothing remarkable this season. As a pitcher for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons Little League team, she not only took her fellow players to the Little League World Series, she became the first young woman to pitch a shutout in the series.  In the process she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. 

        She’s a chief marketing officer’s dream product endorsee.  The challenge however, is how does a brand align itself with such a story maker without coming off as taking advantage of her good fortune for commercial gain?  After all, she’s still a child.  Complicating matters are strict NCAA endorsement rules should she one day become a college athlete. 

Mo'ne Davis is "Throw Like a Girl"

Mo’ne Davis is “Throw Like a Girl”

        Most marketing officers would use Davis to craft a story about their brand.  Chevrolet instead crafted a story about Davis.  It hired acclaimed film maker and renowned New York Yankees fan Spike Lee to create a short documentary about Davis, her coach, and her family.  The documentary called “Throw Like a Girl” makes no direct product pitch.  It does however feature a new Chevy Malibu in the closing scene with a full screen tag line, “Chevrolet celebrates Mo’ne Davis and those who remind us that anything is possible.”

        Chevy also broke down the footage into 60-second ad that aired throughout game four after she threw out the first pitch.

       The documentary and ad together loosely follow’s Richard Baggozi’s Theory of Trying by making the viewer think about their own attitudes of success and failure.  In this case, one’s attitude toward trying is leveraged by Davis’ story of success.  It’s a powerful psychological framework f0r influencing attitudes towards success and the beliefs that it can actually happen. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

        But more important, the campaign is an example of transformational communication.  Instead of using information to affect a consumer decision, it uses emotion.  By forming a positive feeling with Mo’ne Davis’s story, the viewer also forms a positive association with the brand who helped showcase the story—in this case a car company that  wants to transport people to their dreams.

        It’s not just a clever strategy, Chevy also used smart tactics.  It spread the “Throw Like a Girl” ads in a flight throughout the night’s World Series game to ensure broad exposure.  Additionally Chevy integrated the message across its social media channels. (Figure 1)

        The strategy by Chevrolet speaks clearly as to how marketers are embracing brand journalism as a tool to reach and engage audiences in new ways.  Davis threw the perfect pitch, but Chevrolet brought us along for the ride—with its badge on the tailgate.

The Ads of World Cup… Move Over Super Bowl

14 Jun

World Cup Collage

              For decades, advertising in America’s NFL Super Bowl has long been considered the grand prize for the world’s biggest brands.  American football has just been left in the locker room.

                If one measures viral video sharing, World Cup Soccer has already won the trophy.  Unruly Media tracks social media movement of advertisements.  Its data shows the top-five World Cup ads have already drawn more than 6.1 million shares worldwide.   By comparison, the top-five Super Bowl XLIII ads drew 2.9 million shares.   The World Cup games have only just begun and their advertisements have already out-performed Super Bowl exposure by 210%.

McDonald's World Cup commercial

McDonald’s World Cup commercial

                 Much like the marketing in the Super Bowl, ad agencies and their brands are using some of the same theoretical communication concepts in targeting viewers.   Long time University of Minnesota advertising researcher John Eighmey likes to call the main concept “likeability of the ad.”   That is, if you like the advertisement, you’ll like the brand.  It plays off Balance Theory where congruity is formed between the viewer, the ad, and the advertiser.   That’s why so many of these ads are constructed to entertain rather than drive a hard selling proposition.

                One of the top World Cup ads that successfully plays off this theory comes from Nike.  It’s actually a short movie that uses Disney-like animation featuring soccer super stars Zlatan and Neymar Jr.  It’s an easily digestible good vs. evil schema that plays off of Nike’s well established brand of empowerment.

 

                The Bank of Chile has produced perhaps the most emotionally powerful ad of the games.  Chile’s soccer team is placed in the same World Cup division as the titanic teams of Netherlands and Spain.  It’s called the “death group.”  In this case, no men are better suited to sell the argument of fighting death than the very Chilean miners who stared at death and won.  The salient message from the Bank of Chile is that it is the bank which can help build impossible dreams.


                This kind of advertising forum is tailor-made for soft drink brands.  Pepsi has long aligned itself with youth—the Pepsi Generation.  In this ad Pepsi zeros in on its roots once again driving home the message that Pepsi provides the rhythm of fun to live in the moment.

                McDonald’s could have spent its World Cup marketing budget on selling burgers.  Instead it’s selling soccer and kids who are “Loving it.”  McDonald’s is making the bet that viewers will love this ad and love them back in return.

 

                Finally, Castrol is out to show that it too has a trick play up its cylinder head.  This video short pitting man against machine has already scored with fans who have viewed it more than 15 million times.

                 These are just five advertisements in a long list of brands vying for attention.   But they’ve already shown their viral communication power on the world stage.

NBC vs. BBC – The Olympics Ad Battle for Ratings Gold

9 Feb

Olympics Means Ends  Collage  

     Let the games begin.  As athletes from across the globe battle each other, there’s another global battle for viewers to watch them.

     NBC and the BBC have taken two differing approaches.  Both are grounded in successful communication appraisal theory to lead the viewer on a narrative journey to elicit an emotional response to watch broadcasts of the games.  But creatively, they appeal to differing emotions and values.   One appeals to humanity, the other to mythology.

     The BBC approach paints a narrative of battling the Gods.

 

      NBC takes a differing tactic, instead appealing to the narrative of human competition.

      Both promotional efforts are creative and emotionally effective.   But the BBC message is decidedly different than what American audiences are used to seeing and perhaps creates a stronger attitudinal conversion to watch the games.  

Figure 1 - Means-Ends Model

Figure 1 – Means-Ends Model

     The difference is easy to see when we break down the ads into a simple means-ends ladder analysis.   At the bottom of the ladder, both promotional ads are grounded with the attributes of athletic competition and sports.   But where they differ is in the narrative focal goals.  NBC takes a man vs. man approach, where the BBC chooses man vs. nature. (Figure 1)  Those opposing tracts create two powerfully different higher level value propositions, one based on unity and happiness, the other based on immortality.

      Arguably, the BBC approach takes the viewer on a deeper cognitive journey forcing one to think more intensely about the relationship between man and nature.  After all, it’s a given that men and women will defeat each other in the field of competition, but the real prize is whether they can defeat the Gods.   The elaborative journey of the “climbing the mountain” narrative combined with the higher level value of living forever is a powerful proposition.  

       The mountains are calling.  It’s time to watch.

Four Best Super Bowl Ads That Were Anything But Boring

3 Feb

Super Bowl 2014 Collage

     The big game is over.  More than 96 million viewers watched Denver and GoDaddy embarrass themselves.   At the same time Seattle re-wrote the rules on what it takes to be champions, and in between some of the world’s most powerful brands helped reshape our attitudes and beliefs on what it means to be Americans.   We are a country that builds great cars, embodies diversity, welcomes home our troops, and yes, swoons over puppies. 

General Mills' Super Bowl ad "Gracie."

General Mills’ Super Bowl ad “Gracie.”

      This was the year when several brands and their agencies appeared to turn a creative corner.  The bondage of uninspired play-it-safe advertising brought on by the Great Recession has loosened its grip.  Yes, there were still moments where it appeared the messaging was written by 13 years old boys (I’m looking at you, Butterfinger), but there were many more examples of creative bravery, among them Cheerios’ “Gracie.”   

      There are a multitude of post-game rankings sizing up the Super Bowl XLVIII ads, this one is merely an analysis of three that exemplified creative and strategic brand communication, and one that excelled in extending viewer engagement beyond the TV screen.   

     Part of the mark of a confident and strong brand is consistency.   We clearly saw that in two exceptional ads from Chrysler and Coca-Cola.   Since the easing of the Great Recession, Chrysler has positioned itself as America’s “comeback kid.”  It’s given us Eminem, Paul Harvey, and Clint Eastwood who proclaimed it “Halftime in America.”  This year Chrysler gave us Bob Dylan, another American original to say, “You can’t import originality.” 

      The Bob Dylan ad strikes at an important business insight and a critical strategic value proposition: Nobody builds cars better than America, and nobody in America builds cars better than Chrysler.   Using Dylan as the human metaphor for originality and legacy makes the proposition especially salient.   

         Another original American brand reminded us that what makes us original is our differences. Coca-Cola hit the mark with its ad called “It’s Beautiful.”  As one of the world’s most recognized brands with assets in virtually every country, Coca-Cola embodies diversity.   What Coke is selling here is acceptance, empowerment and the happiness that comes when you embrace shared moments—and a Coke—with others.   Its ad by Wieden + Kenney is a powerful brand extension that bravely comes from one the few brands strong enough to pull it off.

     Brave communication was not just cornered by Coca-Cola.   Chevy Silverado leveraged a lot of its own brand equity to say something about cancer—without speaking a word.   

      The silent schema of a solemn ride down a country road in a Silverado pickup  forces the viewer to cognitively elaborate 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 their own attitude, and create the belief that they can take action by supporting the American Cancer Society’s Purple Roads campaign.   The underlying message is not about the truck, but the journey of strength the truck allows one to take.  It’s emotional, powerful, and strategic.

 

     Finally, Toyota’s Super Bowl campaign is notable for not what it did on the TV screen, but what it did on other screens. 

Picture 2 - Swedish Chef telling fellow Muppets they're heading to the "Sferndy Boom."  (Super Bowl)

Picture 1 – Swedish Chef telling fellow Muppets they’re heading to the “Sferndy Boom.” (Super Bowl)

     Toyota’s agency Saachi & Saachi employed the Muppets for a campaign to promote the all-new Highlander SUV targeted strategically at upwardly mobile parents with chaotic families.   And who better to symbolize a loveable, dysfunctional American family than the Muppets?  The unique selling proposition of the campaign is that the Highlander has room for everything inside but boring.   

    To prove their point, Toyota branched out on three separate channels to engage viewers in its “No Room for Boring” campaign.   It started with a YouTube video announcing a road trip to the Super Bowl that of course, went terribly wrong.  (Picture 1)

     The Muppets also took to Twitter taking over the Toyota page to actively engage with Super Bowl viewers during the game. (Figure 1) 

Figure 1 - Interactive Tweets with Pepe and the Muppets on @Toyota

Figure 1 – Interactive Tweets with Pepe and the Muppets on @Toyota

    Finally, the Muppets used Vine to send several short videos of Pepe trying to watch the game from the back of the Highlander.

Picture 1 - Blotz family Tweeting during Super Bowl.

Picture 2 – Blotz family Tweeting during Super Bowl.

      The strategic insight in all of this is that the Super Bowl is no longer a TV-only event.   It’s a multi-screen interactive social village where viewers share and exchange the experience on Twitter, Facebook and other social channels.  It happened even in my own house by evidence of the Instagram picture shared by my wife with her caption, “Remember when people WATCHED the @SuperBowl?”  Guilty as charged. (Picture 2)  During the broadcast, Twitter reported 24.9 million Tweets, that’s 800,000 more than Super Bowl XVLII.

     As the price for Super Bowl ads continues to climb, Toyota’s foray into interactive space is the model more brands are likely to copy.   Not only does it create for a more entertaining and meaningful brand experience, it’s also relatively free.

      Four brands, four distinct messages.   Unlike Denver, they brought their A-game.

  *          *          *

      For more expert analysis of the Super Bowl ads, I invite you to follow John Eighmey’s The Psychology of Advertising.     

Fire up Twitter—The Muppets are Driving to the Sferndy Boom (That’s Swedish Chef Speak for Super Bowl)

1 Feb

  

      Leave it to the Muppets to blow up the tired Super Bowl advertising cliche of talking babies, dogs, and bikini-clad women.

      Perhaps one of the more ingenious advertising campaigns for Super Bowl XLVIII is one that will take viewers of the big game on a virtual ride and let them interact with a brand in a different and entertaining way.

      The Muppets have climbed behind the wheel of the new Toyota Highlander for a road trip of misadventure to New Jersey and have invited all of us to come along.  They’ll live-Tweet during the game using the @Toyota Twitter account and the #NoRoomForBoring hashtag.  

Swedish Chef explaining how the Muppets are heading the "Sferndy Boom."

Swedish Chef explaining how the Muppets are heading the “Sferndy Boom.”

      This is exponentially more than just a piece of social media entertainment.  It’s actually part of a well-orchestrated and highly strategic effort on behalf of Toyota and its agency Saatchi & Saatchi to build awareness and market share for Toyota’s newly remodeled Highlander SUV.   The live-Tweeting coincides with a new commercial that will air during the game featuring the Muppets and former NLF star Terry Crews.  

 

        The campaign is strategic because it zeroes in like a laser beam on a specific target audience: busy, chaotic, upwardly mobile families.  Metaphorically, no family exemplifies that target audience more than the Muppets—America’s very definition of loveable dysfunction.    Furthermore, the adventure they drive Terry Crews through is the archetype of the great American family vacation, foibles and all.   The key branding message is that the new Highlander has room inside for everything but boredom. 

       Even the live-Tweeting during the game is no accident.  It fills what marketers now call “the space in-between” traditional and digital advertising.  In other words, allowing the consumer to customize their own brand experience—in this case interacting with the Muppets in social space.   Wisely, Toyota has even re-branded its Twitter page and its Highlander website with the Muppets so that consumers are given a consistent message with every interactive touch point.  (Figure 1) 

Figure 1 -  Toyota's Twitter and Highlander pages

Figure 1 – Toyota’s Twitter and Highlander pages

       In this regard, it’s a smart way to help Toyota differentiate itself from the other Super Bowl car advertisers by engaging viewers on multiple channels at the same time.   The Muppet’s live-Tweets will make Toyota part of the conversation during what will be among the highest Twitter user events of the year.  (24.1 million Tweets during Super Bowl XLVII)  It’s also an effective way to ensure that Toyota is getting more for its $4 million ad buy.

       It’s part of a new trend of what I call fake-celebrity endorsements.  Comic Will Ferrell created this new genre with the highly successful Ron Burgundy commercials  for the Dodge Durango.  It was all part of a highly integrated campaign to not only sell Dodges, but to cross-promote the new Ron Burgundy Anchorman movie.   Likewise, the Disney and the Muppets are using the same kind of cross-promotion for its new movie opening in March.

       Toyota hopes it sells Highlanders, too.   For the rest of us, it’s a fun and new way to experience the Sferndy Boom—or whatever you call it.

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