A Tornado, a Goldfish and a People-Focused Company Make for Compelling Advertising

Last week, I mentioned that a trend I think we’ll see more of in 2013 is authentic storytelling—using true stories to create compelling advertising. This week, I’d like to show you another example.

Belfor is a property restoration company. In 2011, Carol Tice of CBS News called them “one of those big, successful companies you never hear much about.” (SeeHow Belfor Grew to be #1 in Disaster Recovery.”)

Recently, due to two commercials—one 30 seconds long and the other one minute long—not only do we know their name, but we know what they do and who they are as a company, as a brand.

All that is due to a very compelling story and the personal touches mentioned that give us insight into Belfor.

Here’s the 30 second ad:

We’ve all watched in horror as news reports show towns devastated by tornadoes and other natural disasters. But we don’t often get to witness the recovery. Belfor is a company that specializes in such recovery.

What makes the company memorable is its company culture. Read the CBS News article mentioned above and you’ll see. Belfor CEO Sheldon Yellen, who appears in the ads, drives a company culture that’s “intensely people focused.”

We get that impression along with the notion that they truly care through their documentary-style ads. Here’s the minute-long one:

Companies that are great know that the little things matter. Belfor, through storytelling, convinces us that they are a caring and great company. As Yellen says at the end, Belfor is “restoring more than just property”—a tagline they obviously take to heart.

Look for your company’s stories. If you don’t have any worth sharing, maybe you need to change your company’s culture. And if you do have stories, then what are you waiting for? Tell them in a compelling, people-focused way.

Army Strong: 1st Infantry Division’s Suicide Prevention Campaign Gets Personal

We’re already seeing examples of one of the biggest trends of 2013—authentic storytelling. Marketing campaigns are getting more and more personal, with real stories from real people.

You may be surprised—or not—to know that one organization leading the way is the U.S. Army. Recently, I came across a campaign from the 1st Infantry Division that aims to tackle suicide prevention among soldiers in a more effective way.

I spoke with Mollie Miller from the 1st Infantry Division who filled me in on their “I Know How It Feels” campaign. A campaign that was born and executed within this Division by their own Public Affairs team—not by an agency.  The campaign captures actual soldiers admitting things like:

“I know how it feels to choose the harder right,” talking about taking time off to treat an injury.

Poster with soldier talking about asking for help

“Soldier on.” We’ve all heard the saying, meaning tough it out and keep your mouth shut. Who’s tougher than a soldier? The 1st Infantry is trying to change the meaning of “soldier on” and show everyone that being tough means asking for help. That’s strong.

Straight Talk from the Army Chief of Staff

According to Miller:

In late 2012, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno instructed leaders at all levels the Army refocus their efforts in the realms of suicide prevention. Despite a constant “attack” on suicide, the formation seemed to be losing ground in the effort to prevent soldier/family member suicide. Gen. Odierno asked Army leaders to focus their efforts on several key areas including stigma reduction, combating isolation, and resiliency. In an effort to communicate suicide prevention, stigma reduction and resilience messages to audiences who seemed to have turned a deaf ear to the traditional leadership-driven, buzz word-rich messages, the 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs team launched the “I Know How It Feels” Campaign.

The poster-based campaign is designed to show soldiers, family members and civilians they’re not alone in their struggles. The goal is to motivate them to get help “at the first signs of trouble, rather than waiting until problems seem monumental and unfixable.”

The posters feature actual soldiers, civilians and family members discussing their own personal struggles and what they did to overcome their challenges, like this one below featuring Lt. William Milzarski.

Soldier asking for help with nightmares

Lt. Milzarski shares his story about the war he brought home and how he sought help for recurring nightmares that disrupted his life.

Talking about feelings and getting help isn’t something anyone in the military is used to. So, it’s especially nice to see real soldiers brave enough to speak out. And it’s even more gratifying to see the positive response their honesty is bringing.

“Outstanding” Response

Reaction from soldiers, families and even the public have been very positive. Miller says:

The reaction has been outstanding. The audiences that we targeted (1st Infantry Division Soldiers and family members) as well as several secondary audiences (local community members, Army veterans, extended family members) have been praising this campaign here on post and throughout Facebook. Comments like “outstanding initiative” and “I wish the Army would have done something like this a long time ago” have followed every poster’s launch on Facebook.

This is a campaign that all marketers should take note of–an example of how to target a tough audience and step into delicate territory at the same time.

Follow the 1st Infantry Division on Facebook to see more of the fantastic things they do. And stay tuned to this blog, because I’m on the lookout for more powerful examples of using real-life stories in marketing, advertising and social campaigns to share with you.

The Best Super Bowl Commercial Wasn’t Actually a Super Bowl Ad

Fitting that Super Bowl commercials kicked off with an ad featuring prom (Audi’s ad)—an event everyone gets hyped up for but it never lives up to expectations. Sound familiar?

So much money spent on Super Bowl ads, yet most are still ho-hum, proving that money can’t buy creativity.

A few ads did stand out though, Taco Bell’s “Viva Young,” Amy Poehler’s Best Buy ad, VW’s “Get in. Get Happy” ad.

My winner is Coca-Cola’s first ad of the night—and, psst, it’s not really a Super Bowl ad. It has aired before (one source I saw said in Summer 2012, but it was uploaded to YouTube in November).

Yes, I’m giving them the sentimental vote—for a few reasons.

1. Messages promoting peace and kindness are needed right now.

With wars and violence raging in many countries and civil discourse being overtaken by loudmouths in Congress and elsewhere putting ego before progress, we need reminders that humans can be nice to one another. We need reminders that we’re all in this life together, so let’s choose kindness over vitriol and violence.

2. Coke proves they’re “the real thing” by including real acts of bravery and kindness.

According to Guido Rosales, Latin America Integrated Marketing Communication Director for Coca-Cola, as quoted in Fast Company’s article, Coca-Cola bought usage rights of real footage from security cameras, and re-created what they couldn’t purchase.

3. Waxing a bit nostalgic, Coke goes back to their roots.

If you were around in the ‘70s, you most likely remember the iconic Coke ads with a multicultural group of people singing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” It’s an idea they keep regenerating in different ways, which is great (as long as they do it well) because the idea is timeless.

All of these reasons could be summed up in one word—thoughtful. Coke put time and effort into gaining actual footage to send this message of kindness and peace. And while their tagline, “Open happiness” is corny and not really fitting for a soda, the company is trying to fulfill its brand promise through community and social media efforts and advertising.

Their actual Super Bowl commercial—the Coke Chase, didn’t live up to the hype, but every brand has hits and misses. And speaking of hits…

Slam dunk? Props to Oreo for taking advantage of the mid-game blackout with this tweet:

Oreo tweets during blackout can still dunk in the dark

Note the number of retweets & favorites after only 7 minutes.

Are Consumers Dumb? Yes, and Advertisers Love It!

Dopey, copyright Walt Disney Productions

Dopey, copyright Walt Disney Productions

Companies and their marketers rely on consumers to be dumb—or at least momentarily dumb. You hear a lot about how smart consumers are, but really, that’s a bunch of bull. We still fall for the same tricks and are attracted to shiny objects. Otherwise, JCPenney’s Fair and Square campaign might have worked. (I’ll get back to that in a bit.)

First, before you think this is some sort of attack, I’ll use myself as an example. I consider myself a smart shopper. I read labels, read reviews, compare specs, etc., but I am still a sucker for endcaps and bright designs.

In case you don’t know, a store’s endcap is the product shelving at the end of a row that faces the main aisle. It’s valuable space where they put all the bright, shiny objects they want to sell most. And it works. I just bought a pack of “Dark Side” Skittles because they caught my attention and I was curious enough to throw them in my cart—even though the only “candy” in my cupboard is usually chocolate.

Watch for Red Flags

Right now, one industry trying to take advantage of these sorts of random bouts of stupidity is the auto insurance industry. I got this in the mail from Allstate:

Allstate DriveWise postcard

Allstate wants your reaction to be: “Ooh, look honey, we’re safe drivers, we can finally save more money just by putting this little doohickey in our car.”

But look closer. This is what it does (Progressive has the same thing.)

  1. Call to get your device. You’ll get a 10% discount just for signing up (red flag!).
  2. Plug it in under your car’s dashboard.
  3. Drive safely.
  4. The device collects your car’s driving data (red flag!). You can then track your data and savings online. (Distraction: Wow! We can see how much we’re saving.)

Notice the wording too. The device “collects”—a harmless-seeming verb—while you “track.” They were very careful to put the focus on what you can do, and even smarter to make it seem like they’re helping you. But yes, of course, their device is tracking you. That’s how they’ll determine pricing, by your monitored behavior.

People complain about “big brother” and the government intruding on privacy, but many companies are making much more inroads on mining private data than the government. Allstate’s DRIVEWISE device and Progressive’s Snapshot device are essentially monitoring tools.

All companies need to do is get you hooked—who doesn’t want to save 60 percent, right? (But you’re not going to save that much.) Then later, they can add more and more restrictions until you’re stuck—until we’re all stuck really, as the other types of plans fade away and become more pricey. This is how industries change (like health insurance did), all under the guise of giving consumers more control.

Don’t fall for it. Yes, we will probably always be drawn to fun or fancy designs and bright colors. But take a few moments to read the fine print.

Back to JCPenney

They began with two great ideas:

  1. Let’s do something different from our competitors.
  2. Let’s be straightforward with our pricing and save customers time and money.

Fabulous! Except, we consumers like to be tricked. We need visual reminders we’re getting a good deal. That’s why we clip coupons and shop sales (even on holidays and when we have to line up at 2 a.m.). As much as we hate haggling over the price of a car, we love it too, because ultimately when we walk away, we feel like we won.

Now we have “loyalty” cards that track all our shopping habits and now have these devices for our car that will send all data about how we drive to our car insurance company. All because we don’t want fair pricing—we want gimmicks, prices that end in “99” and sales to make us feel like we win.

Stop being the sucker advertisers want you to be. We have smart phones, smart appliances and smart TVs—isn’t it time we have smart shoppers too?

Restoring the Brand of a Fallen Superstar

You probably thought this was going to be yet another article about Lance Armstrong. No. Amidst all the hubbub over Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and the questions of will he or won’t he be able to come back, another fallen superstar has quietly (and arguably) completed his brand restoration.

Tiger Woods is back—the old, likeable, marketable Tiger.

Nike Golf smartly paired their newly signed superstar Rory McElroy with Tiger Woods in this fun “No Cup is Safe” ad. And Tiger looks as relaxed and friendly as ever.

Nike is the “too big to fail” behemoth of the marketing world. They remain pretty much untouched by scandal by knowing when to drop an athlete and when to hold on. They dropped Lance once he admitted to doping.

With Tiger, Nike didn’t waver. They were one of the few sponsors not to drop the big-name golfer after the embarrassing sex scandal that ended his marriage and left his career as one giant question mark.

Tiger, at the time, was Nike Golf. So, you can say (and I did in my 2010 blog post) that Nike didn’t really have a choice. They had to stick with their moneymaker.

They released a creepy commercial that featured Tiger’s father speaking while we were left looking at the golfer’s grim face. It reeked of “feel sorry for me” and had people all over the Internet talking. A risky move, but one that ultimately paid off.

This latest commercial is Nike’s smartest move yet on Tiger’s brand comeback journey. Pairing Woods with one of the most likeable players out there—Rory McElroy—was a flat-out genius move.

Watch the ad, and notice the old Tiger moves—the flashy smile, the bouncing of the golf ball on the club and then launching it, the trick shots and sly “you can’t touch me” look—are back.

Even if the two top golfers weren’t actually together when filming this ad, this pairing is one we will all look forward to seeing again and again—on the course and in commercials.

Inspiration on a Wrapper? Great Idea…or Not

Inspiration…everyone could use some. Advertising can be quite good and powerful when tapping into something inspiring. Lately, we see more and more inspiring messages on product packaging.

But is there a line we should draw somewhere?

A bowl of Dove chocolates surrounded by their wrappers

Dove chocolate is known for their inspiring messages inside their wrappers on Dove Promises.

Take time to notice the color of the leaves changing.

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

Ignite your sense of adventure.

Take good care of yourself.

Stir your sense of pleasure.

The other day I noticed little messages on the wrapper of my Halls Breezers throat drops (Halls, by the way, has the tagline A Pep Talk in Every DropTM.)

Elicit a few “wows” today.

Be resilient.

Get back in there champ!

Nothing you can’t handle.

Go for it.

A little silly, I thought. But then, maybe if the person using the Halls is sick, peppy little messages could give a person a lift. Of course, maybe they should’ve come up with some better messages.

And then, I found the line.

Wrapped tampons on the floor spelling out "Go Girl"

Tampons. Yes, Playtex Sport tampons have messages on their wrappers.

Go for the goal.

Focus on the goal.

Keep a clear head.

Refuse to lose.

Strong bodies, strong minds.

Celebrate your efforts.

I’m sure Playtex is trying to appeal to younger women and teen girls who are participating in sports, but please. There’s a time and a place for a pep talk, and the wrapper of the tampon just isn’t it.

Not only is it the wrong place for a pep talk, it’s the wrong time too. Any woman in the room when the discussion about these tampon wrappers took place should’ve known that.

Despite what you see on most idiotic feminine care commercials, women are not full of spirit and joy every time they get their period. And when we’re doubled over in cramps is not the time to approach us with some inane, supposedly self-esteem boosting message.

For men, let me put it in words you’ll understand. Imagine if someone just kicked you in the balls, and then said, “Strong bodies, strong minds” or “Refuse to lose.” What would you do?

I think I’ve made my point.

Consider your audience, people. If you want to try and inspire your audience, great. Just make sure it’s at the right place and the right time.

Boring Features, Bad Dog, Good Volkswagen, Great Advertising

Ahh, Volkswagen, you’ve done it again. VW commercials tend to be hit or miss. And their latest “Bad Dog, Good Volkswagen” is a hit. At least I think so—see what you think:

Just looking at this dog is enough to entertain you, especially with Johnny Cash’s “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” pulling you through the story. The man in the commercial plays off the dog perfectly—his facial expressions, the way he holds the dog add to the humor of this ad.

This commercial hits the tenets of good advertising. In addition to the humor and the fitting song, above all else, it’s memorable. And that’s really what makes or breaks an ad.

Who wouldn’t remember that dog and the guy holding the dog next to his car to close all the windows. Priceless…and a great way to show the features of your car without being boring.

This commercial is so much better than the “Door Thunk” ones and ranks right up there with the Star Wars kid thinking he starts his dad’s car.

Hit or miss, Volkswagen is definitely creative when it comes to showing off its car features. I can’t think of any other car company showcasing these “boring, but nice to have” features of their car so well.

Can you?

Yes, Nike, Greatness Has Been Found…in a Gatorade Ad

Greatness has been found, and, no, not in a Nike commercial. Instead, I found it in this Gatorade commercial. Check it out:

“Greatness isn’t given. Greatness is taken—taken in the summer when no one’s looking.”

I wasn’t even watching my TV when this ad came on, but the words made me stop what I was doing and look up.

“Oh no you didn’t!” I thought, “Nike just got burned!”

Yes, I realize the Gatorade ad has been out since July, but I hadn’t seen it until recently—after the Olympics.

If you’re like me—maybe even if you’re not like me—you bristled a little at the “Greatness has been found” campaign of Nike’s I covered after the U.S. Women’s Soccer team won gold at the Olympics and donned those t-shirts.

Even not in the context of that event, the slogan seems arrogant and is missing that “Just Do It” nature that Nike commercials usually are very good at selling.

The “Find your greatness” aspect of Nike’s campaign was better, but Gatorade goes one step further with the intense workout footage and the words in their ad, starring Robert Griffin III, better known as RG3—a man who knows how to work. This man didn’t “find” the Heisman trophy, he earned it. He didn’t find his way to a top draft pick and a starting role for the Washington Redskins—he worked hard and earned it.

That’s why I think Gatorade has struck gold with this ad. You know by now that I’m a fan of great copywriting and, indeed, greatness has been found in RG3’s Gatorade commercial. It’s worth repeating.

“Greatness isn’t given. Greatness is taken…taken in the summer…when no one’s looking.”

So true. Go take yours…um, in the winter. Sorry, summer’s over.

The Power of Paralympians Perfectly Expressed

Great advertising can’t always be summed up properly in words—you know it when you see it. The Lloyds TSB-sponsored Paralympics ads are so terrific, I had to share them with you today.

Athlete in wheelchair: 400 Metres in 46 Seconds, Just With His Arms

Bold headlines and graphic manipulation of the photos give a palpable sense of motion and power.

Oscar Pistorius running, headline: Don't Look at the Legs, Look at the Records

Using the most recognizable Paralympics athlete ever is a given. Most of us knew of Oscar Pistorius before he participated in the London Olympic Games. Watching him there probably made more people realize how athletic these “disabled” athletes are. This ad campaign pushes people to realize even more the excitement and power in the Paralympic Games, hopefully drawing in more of an audience.

Woman on horse: Making a Horse dance Isn't Easy. Without Legs It's Almost Impossible

You know I’m a fan of good copywriting, and these headlines are fantastic! Not only are they intriguing and entice you to want to see these athletes compete, but they also point out what you might be missing. Did you notice the woman above on the horse had no legs?

Two judo women: You Can't See It's a Perfect Throw. She Doesn't Need To.

In the above ad, you would’ve had no way of knowing if one (or both) of the athletes is blind–and that’s kind of the point.

Wheelchair athlete playing basketball: Tilt at 46 Degrees You're a Hero. Tilt at 47, It's Game Over

How perfect is that? I hope you were as impressed by these ads as I was. They made me want to see more, and that truly is a sign of great advertising.