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
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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.