OH, NO, ANOTHER SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL?
You are here not for the news of the moment, but for the big-brand insights, techniques and tips that can inform your own small-business marketing.
And this week, we have a stunning example of how to do institutional advertising the right way.
In other words, how to show your brand cares without coming off as a crass, opportunistic jerk.
In case you're unfamiliar with the term, institutional advertising is different from product, promotional or brand advertising in that it doesn't sell a product or service.
Instead, it sells the feeling that an advertiser is a good member of the community.
For instance, Chevron product advertising typically talks about things like how good their gasoline with Techron is for your talking car.
But their institutional advertising talks about things like their oil rigs as fabulous, artificial-reef homes for lots and lots of colorful fish. "See? No pollution! Pretty fish!"
INSTITUTIONAL ADVERTISING IS DESIGNED TO MAKE US FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE ADVERTISER
So often, small-business advertisers try to do it right, but end up doing it wrong.
The worst example, and arguably not even an attempt to do it correctly, is infamous in radio advertising circles. In the wake of 9/11, a jeweler ripped off a famous 1960's recording about U.S disasters, and used it to "honor" Americans before making a pitch to buy jewelry as a smart investment in uncertain times.
Cynical, tone-deaf, calculating, and incompetent are all words that fail to adequately describe this effort.
Fortunately, efforts like that are rare. More common is just an uncertainty about how to drop the sales pitch and go institutional.
And this year's Super Bowl provides a vivid and tear-jerking example of how to do it the right way. And with a simple story.
THE ROOM IS DARK
A middle-aged woman is asleep in bed. A single, tense chord is playing underneath. A cell phone is heard vibrating.
Her husband rolls over. He sits on the edge of the bed. Listens. He says, "I'll be right there."
The tense music bed continues, and builds, as the man drives his luxury SUV through the wee morning hours, across a truss bridge over a substantial body of water.
His car radio is tuned to a news report about a storm that is "Still affecting thousands of families in desperate need of aid."
THE SUV PULLS INTO THE EMPTY PARKING LOT OF AN ENORMOUS BUDWEISER BREWING PLANT
The music becomes Skylar Grey's soulful rendition of Ben E. King's spiritual-inspired, "Stand By Me."
"When the night has come/And the land is dark/And the moon is the only light we'll see."
The man from the SUV is walking through the plant. Freshly-packed cases of Budweiser are speeding along the line.
A title appears, identifying the man as, "Kevin Fahrenkrog, General Manager, Cartersville Brewery." As the crew gathers around him, he says to a guy in a red Budweiser shirt, "Where we at?" Unintelligible conversation ensues. "Stand By Me" continues. "No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid/Just as long as you stand, stand by me."
Someone presses a button. The bottling machinery stops. The needle on the dial of a pressure gauge drops to zero. The unfilled Budweiser cans rolling along the line come to a halt. A lone man working the line is standing and waiting. "Just as long as you stand, stand by me."
Somebody at a control panel labeled "Brew Zone 3" switches from a diagram of a red brewing tank to a tank that is pale green.
THE BUDWEISER CANS ON A CONVEYER MOVE FORWARD
As they advance, they open a gap, revealing a new row of cans. These cans are white, and have one big word printed on the label: "Water."
A giant steel tank is filling with fresh, crystalline water. Men on the line begin connecting hoses. Water can be seen running through the lines. Freshly-filled cans of water start running along the conveyor.
Mr. Fahrenkrog, wearing a hard hat and safety glasses, watches freshly packed cases of water coming along the line. A fleet of forklifts carries pallets of water to a waiting convoy of red Budweiser trucks, which speed away into the morning sun.
The music continues. "No I won't be afraid/Just as long as you stand, stand by me."
Someone is watching a TV news report of cases of water being handed off a truck. The footage is captioned, "Breaking news. Disaster relief efforts in action."
Cut away to reveal the woman who, in the first shot, was lying in bed asleep.
SHE LOOKS ACROSS AT SOMEONE WHOSE BACK IS TO THE CAMERA
Cut to a reverse shot of Mr. Fahrenkrog, General Manager, Cartersville Brewery, at home eating his dinner.
A small hint of a smile as he looks away and down at his dinner plate.
Cut to a long, aerial shot of a Budweiser plant surrounded by green grass and trees. A Budweiser semi is rolling away from the plant as the camera moves up and away. Titles drop in: "Texas." "Florida." "Puerto Rico." "California."
Cut to a shot of a Budweiser can against a white background. Except that, the label does not say, "Budweiser."
It says, "America."
A caption appears...
"WHENEVER YOU NEED US"
The can spins to reveal the white label that says, "Water," with an Anheuser Busch logo.
New caption, "We'll stand by you."
Fade to: Budweiser logo.
This is a veritable blueprint for how to tug at the heartstrings, make a convincing argument for how the business is a good community partner, and never once overshadow the institutional message with a pitch for the product.
The product is there. There are cases and cans of Budweiser in profusion, and the logo is on all the trucks and signage.
BUT NEVER ONCE DOES THIS ONE-MINUTE COMMERCIAL SAY, "BUY BUDWEISER"
Instead, pushes the Budweiser cans out of the way to make room for a desperately needed commodity for disaster relief.
And when you're producing audio or video media, never, ever underestimate the value of the right music bed.
I once had an argument with a commercial producer about a piece of music on a commercial.
The producer's argument was founded on the supposed fact that the music had the correct number of beats.
What the music needs to have is the correct emotional impact.
And Skylar Grey's rendition of "Stand By Me" has exactly what is needed to accompany the images and message of this commercial.
I ALSO HATE TO SAY THIS, BUT...
The Budweiser commercial works better and has a more profound impact than Ms. Grey's music video for the same song.
Because the music video is what's expected.
Yes, there are some poignant notes in the video.
But the Budweiser commercial is completely unexpected.
It is surprising and has a tiny story arc that you don't see coming from the world's biggest brewing conglomerate.
It is focused, and it is relevant, and it doesn't sell beer.
WHAT'S OUR TAKE AWAY?
It doesn't matter whether you're doing a multi-million-dollar TV buy or a local radio commercial or a YouTube video or a Facebook post or a print ad.
If you want to go institutional and promote your community-mindedness, you need to be relevant.
Tell a simple, emotionally evocative story. Budweiser's story is, "Here's how our people get fresh drinking water to disaster zones."
It also doesn't show the disaster. We've all seen enough of that. Instead, we see the story of one man being roused from his bed in the wee hours, and not hesitating to get to the plant to serve a higher purpose.
And finally, never, ever try to sell your product on the coattails of an institutional message. Because then, you just come off like an opportunistic jerk.
And nobody wants to be that.
If you'd like to see this commercial again (and we recommend playing it full screen with the volume up), visit https://youtu.be/CxGUmtRLm5g
And in a completely non-institutional, self-promotional effort, The CoupleCo podcast is rocking the entrepreneurial couple world at www.TheCoupleCoPodcast.com
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
CAN WE REALLY CONTINUE TALKING ABOUT THE SUPER BOWL ALL THESE WEEKS LATER?
Indeed, we can.
Because here, we are not about the hype and the glory.
We are about smart thinking, which is not fleeting and faddish, but timeless.
And sometimes, you get that timeless thinking in Super Bowl advertising.
And while, on the face of it, there may not be anything smart about it, we're going to say, "Dilly, Dilly!"
There is so much to be learned from Bud Light's ridiculous advertising campaign that originally began as a one-off celebration of the season premiere of Game Of Thrones, and has since become a cultural phenomenon--including epic Super Bowl glory with extravagant production, throngs of extras, and CGI effects.
What's to be learned?
ONE THING TO BE LEARNED IS COURAGE
How on earth did this thing happen?
And how did the People In Charge let it?
So far, there's not a lot of press about the creative process.
But you can learn a lot from a big, gregarious and amusing Portuguese gentleman by the name of Miguel Patricio, Chief Marketing Officer of Anheuser-Busch InBev.
When asked what "Dilly, Dilly" means, he replied, "It doesn't mean anything. We all need our moments of nonsense and fun."
Nonsense and fun?
THIS IS A C-SUITE-ER FROM A $258 BILLION COMPANY
And he has no problem recognizing the need for nonsense and fun?
But it gets better.
He says, "A lot of people ask me, 'How did you approve that?' We didn't expect it to be that successful. It didn't test that well."
OK. One of the world's most powerful Chief Marketing Officers is happy to go against the research.
People don't like it? I don't care!
THAT IS KNOWN AS GOING WITH YOUR GUT
And I applaud the man.
He further says, "Consumers will get it, especially with repetition. We have a chance here for this to become big. So, we went against the research, and we gave a chance to "Dilly, Dilly," and we are so happy."
And here's a phrase that matters.
Mr. Patricio says there's a test you can do. He went to Amazon and did a search and, without Bud Light doing any kind of merchandising, he found all kinds of "Dilly Dilly" related items.
He says, "It becomes cultural currency."
YOU MEAN, LIKE, "GOT MILK"?
Or, "We'll leave the light on for you"?
Or even, "Real men of genius"?
It was disappointing that Bud Light killed that latter campaign.
And yes, it was wildly successful, making the product a category leader and keeping it there for years.
But Bud Light seems to have a new cultural currency that has turned into another juggernaut.
But, there's also a really important question to ask.
IS IT SELLING ANY BEER?
That's hard to know.
But here's what we can tell you.
According to Ted Marzilli, leader of the BrandIndex global business unit of YouGov dot com, Bud Light's perception with men is at an 18-month high.
We just don't know what "Dilly, Dilly!" has to do with that, as there is other advertising running out there.
And as we all know, perception doesn't necessarily lead to sales.
THAT NOTWITHSTANDING, YOU HAVE TO ADMIRE THE NERVE
Selling beer is a multi-million-dollar proposition.
People live and die by tiny movements of the needle and in the balance sheets.
And to go with the gut in a situation like this is admirable.
Which, for us, is one of the solid takeaways from Señor Patricio: Having the courage to go with your gut is one of the unsung characteristics of emotional intelligence.
There are numbers that tell you it isn't necessarily the best way to go--and you go there anyway.
AND UNDERSTAND, WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT GOING WITH YOUR EGO
There's a difference.
Going with your ego is all about you.
Going with your gut is about the world outside you.
How can you tell the difference?
Going with your ego makes you feel good.
Going with your gut makes you feel a little nervous.
And it doesn't always work.
But it usually works better than going with your ego.
SO WHAT IS THE TAKEAWAY?
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Have courage.
Marketing can be a scary thing. You're putting a message out there in the world and you can't be sure how it's going to be perceived.
The more impactful the message, the more scary it can feel.
The first time I won a Radio Mercury Award, it was with a message that was scary--because I knew it was good enough to win a cutthroat national competition with a huge cash prize attached.
It was a sweaty palms moment. I was also afraid the client would reject it, making it ineligible. (They did not.)
AND WHEN YOU'RE DEVISING YOUR MESSAGE, FEEL FREE TO PLAY
We all need our moments of nonsense and fun.
Maybe your business can't market with nonsense and fun.
Like if you have a mortuary.
Of course, if you listen to the enormously impactful "Celebrate a life" campaign from Forest Lawn mortuaries, you can hear how fun really does have a place in marketing a business like that.
Not words you think of when you think of the mortuary business.
Unless you work in a funeral home, where I'm told the motto is "The first three letters in 'funeral' spell 'fun.'"
BUT I DIGRESS
Have courage. Go with your gut. Feel free to play.
And don't always believe the research.
It doesn't prove anything beyond what happened in the room.
If you focus group an advertisement with a hundred people, you can get 100 reasons why not to run it.
It helps to understand what they're saying and why they're saying it.
And it helps to realize that focus groups are unnatural.
Just because something doesn't test well doesn't mean it won't fly.
It could just be a sleeper.
I don't test well at all.
And I can fly. And I don't even wear a cape.
You know what else flies? The CoupleCo podcast, available at www.TheCoupleCoPodcast.com
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
CAN WE FINALLY TALK ABOUT THE SUPER BOWL?
Yes, we'll finally do it.
Now that the hoo-hah has died down;
Now that my die-hard Philly fan of a wife has been in an Eagles victory parade down Park City's Main Street with eight other cockeyed optimists in green jerseysand been covered in the local paper;
Now that the Valentine's Day launch of CoupleCo: Working With Your Spouse For Fun & Profit has happened and you may or may not have paid attention to it (here's the link: https://tinyurl.com/y73nu26g);
We can finally talk about the commercials.
And we're going to talk about what should be your personal favorite, even though it's probably not.
BUT FIRST, A DISCLAIMER
I know that it was also the favorite of Wizard of Ads partner Jeff Sexton, a brilliant copywriter the hem of whose garment I am unworthy to kiss.
I know Mr. Sexton has already opined upon this commercial.
I, however, have not yet read his missive.
I did not wish to be influenced, in whole or in part, by his writing.
So everything here is on me. We are not cribbing notes from his screed. (Though, that could be difficult. His screed is generally much more polite than my own.)
Here it comes:
Thirty words of announcer copy.
One single, 40-second take.
OPEN ON A LONG SHOT ACROSS A RIVER
Coming through tall, dry grass is a red Jeep.
The Jeep plunges over the river bank and into the water.
Announcer: "How many car ads have you seen with grandiose speeches over the years?"
There's a big a splash as the Jeep barrels through the river towards the camera, water up to the bumper.
Announcer: "Big declarations making claims to some overarching human truth."
The Jeep passes by the camera and heads towards a waterfall. It surges up a rock ledge.
Announcer: "Companies call these commercials manifestos."
The Jeep aims towards the cascading waters. It bounces across a series of rocks, climbs up the waterfall, and barrels away.
Announcer: "There's your manifesto."
Graphic: "The all-new 2018 Wrangler." Graphic fades to: "Jeep."
THE SIMPLICITY AND ELEGANCE OF THIS MESSAGE DEFIES SUPER BOWL MADNESS
It's been a long time since Super-Bowl-commercial mania dished out anything this refined.
It also belies a deep emotional charge that fuels the purchase of vehicles like Jeep.
And there's the fact that weeks after seeing this message just one time in a crowded, noisy room, it still resonates.
It may not resonate for you.
Speaking personally, my wife and I live 5 miles up a rutted dirt road with over a thousand feet of elevation gain.
We live a different kind of Jeep lifestyle.
Jeep is relevant to us. We owned a Wrangler for a while.
WE PRESENTLY OWN A 19-YEAR OLD JEEP CHEROKEE
That vehicle is a beast.
It, too, is red.
And it could have easily followed that all-new 2018 Wrangler up that waterfall.
And laughed. Ha!
This Jeep commercial is one of the oldest, most time-tested ways of advertising: The product demonstration.
It cuts, it chops, it dices, it slices, it gets out blood stains, it'll blend a Justin Bieber CD, an iPhone and a wooden rake handle, it even starts a car that's been left parked in zero-degree weather overnight with the lights on.
PRODUCT DEMONSTRATION IS NOT HIP, IT'S NOT COOL, IT DOESN'T WIN A CANNES GOLD LION
But it's arguable that this product demonstration breaks the mold enough that it could win all kinds of awards.
Because it is smart, refined, and has attitude up the wazoo.
"Hey, buddy. Ya know all the pretense that car makers love to throw atcha? We have no pretense. We just quietly kick ass. So there."
That Jeep commercial isn't really aimed at me or at the Fabulous Honey Parker, or at anyone else who lives a Jeep lifestyle.
People with an actual need for high-clearance, 4WD vehicles already know Jeep. They love it or they don't.
YES, WE ALL APPRECIATE THE BEAUTY OF THE PRODUCT DEMONSTRATION
But there's more at work here.
Brand is the one way the core customer should feel about the product.
And in this case, a company sold just shy of a million vehicles in North America in 2016 to almost nobody who needs to drive up a waterfall.
They mainly don't even need to drive five miles up a rutted dirt road.
You know where they need to drive? The supermarket. School. The office.
But all those Jeeps get bought because people feel like they're buying the power to control.
AND IN A TIME WHEN THE WORLD SEEMS OUT OF CONTROL?
The feeling of control is a powerful thing to be selling.
Moreover, in an overcrowded advertising environment, saturated with big and dramatic commercial productions that come at you throwing down rhymes and riding horses and breathing fire and kicking ass and taking names...
The ability to be heard above the mayhem...
With the power of a whisper...
Is a glorious thing.
It's too soon to know how well the Jeep commercial will do.
And this one message is a tiny part of a huge advertising machine.
Jeep has such an enormous product line, we may never know.
BUT HERE'S WHAT WE CAN TAKE AWAY...
It is mighty.
It makes a statement.
And it does so without pyrotechnics.
It takes an unsexy technique like product demonstration and gives it wings.
Or, rather, big tires.
And those qualities are available to any and all of us who have to create advertising on a micro-budget.
What we lack in budget, we get to make up for with talent and finesse.
Those two qualities can make even the smallest ad really, really big.
If you haven't yet been to iTunes for the CoupleCo podcast, it's filled with laughs, insights, and couples who are crushing it in business without crushing each other. Here's the link:
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.