“What do consumers want?”
It’s a burning question marketers have long been asking, but the way we’re now able to answer it is vastly different from in the era of pin-up girls and dazzling automobile ads.
Why? We’re living in the age of data.
With audiences rapidly moving online, the question is no longer ambiguous. Instead, data allows marketers to gain complex insights into people’s feelings, habits, and emotions–essentially, into what drives them to buy.
The best advertising of the decade, then, is the product of this shift–a carefully crafted narrative that tells the story consumers want to hear before they buy.
Pretty pictures simply don’t drive the same marketing traffic that they use to, so don’t let your advertising efforts fall behind the times. We know that visual marketing is powerful, but psychologically driven visual marketing is unstoppable.
Here’s how 10 major brands crafted it, captured the hearts and minds of their audiences, and went viral. Take notes–you can use these techniques too.
1. Dove, “Campaign for Real Beauty”: Deconstruct the Norm
When Unilever’s market research showed that, in 2004, only 4 percent of women considered themselves “beautiful,” an advertising campaign was hatched. Working in tandem, Ogilvy & Mather and Edelman Public Relations set out to change that perception by deconstructing contemporary norms of beauty.
After putting up billboards that asked people to reassess their perception of female beauty, the campaign gained massive press attention. Talk shows, women’s magazines, even newspapers and news television shows began discussing modern female beauty standards as a result of the campaign. This media exposure created approximately 30 times the revenue of paid-for media spots, according to Jonathan Kolstad’s book Unilever PLC: Campaign for Real Beauty Campaign.
By leveraging market research to understand how women perceived their beauty, Dove was able to create viral videos (such as an interview piece with mothers and their daughters who discussed perceptions of female beauty with one another) and a series of commercials (“Evolution,” “Onslaught,” and “Amy”) that deconstructed this perceived norm that beauty is about being skinny and young.
Dove’s campaign went viral because it connected with people’s realization that female beauty norms are not always “normal,” that the most beautiful person you can be is yourself, and that if a brand message is resonant enough, it can (almost) market itself.
2. Burberry, “The Art of the Trench”: Create a Sense of Community
“The Art of the Trench” website was launched by Burberry in 2009, which showed everyday people sporting their Burberry trench coats. It found global success by creating a community of people who owned a Burberry trench coat and created a desire to join this community from people who did not yet own one of the iconic jackets.
By creating a club-like feeling through tapping into Facebook connectivity, interactive multimedia, celebrity photographers, and video integration, Burberry’s “The Art of the Trench” campaign quickly went viral.
Everyone wanted to see himself or herself on Burberry’s site and many of those who didn’t have a trench coat were inspired to get one. It also leveraged the popularity of “street style” photography and employed famous photographers who made amateur models feel like a part of a professional community, as shown in the photos below.
3. Old Spice, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”: Leverage Market Research and Never Pander
When Wieden Kennedy conducted market research on bathroom products and found that it’s best to target women when selling men’s products (women tend to make the purchasing choices for bathroom supplies), Old Spice created “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” Previously, men’s products had been marketed directly toward men, most notably with Axe body sprays and washes, whose commercials showed attractive women running after the men who wore them. However, this approach turned women off to purchasing Axe products while making men feel pandered to by commercials that equated their sexuality with body sprays.
The Old Spice campaign, however, put handsome NFL athlete-turned-actor Isaiah Mustafa into peculiar, over-the-top situations, which was attractive to women as well as to men, who found the rapid-fire dialogue and humorous juxtaposition of Mustafa’s nonchalant demeanor butting up against wildly changing sceneries and events to be clever and funny rather than pandering.
Although any company could have unearthed this market research, the execution was so fun and so simple–equating body soaps and deodorants to a suave, sexy football player–that Old Spice quickly had a viral hit on its hands. This campaign differentiated Old Spice as fun-loving brand that didn’t need to talk down to you.
4. Red Bull, “Stratos”: Engage in Brand Behavior
Red Bull maintains that sending the Austrian daredevil Felix Baumbartner into space to become the first person to break the sound barrier without an engine was not meant as an advertisement. “The Red Bull Stratos project was, first and foremost, a scientific mission documented by our broadcast and editorial teams for seven years,” Red Bull spokeswoman Patrice Radden told Ad Age. “Red Bull Stratos was not an advertising campaign.”
This alleged “anti-ad,” where Baumbartner flew through the stratosphere and landed at the Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, New Mexico, was textbook brand behavior–equating Red Bull with adventurousness and a daredevil mindset–and, for all intents and purposes, was in fact an advertisement for the well-known energy drink even as it skirted the boundaries of conventional advertising.
Cleverly, Red Bull characterized “the jump” as an “event,” not an “ad,” so that when it was live-streamed on YouTube it gained over 9.5 million viewers, setting the record for the “live stream with the most concurrent views ever on YouTube.”
Viewers weren’t tuning in to watch an advertisement; they were tuning in to watch a brand engage in the behaviors that aligned with its core values of adventure.
5. Apple, “Get a Mac”: Create a Campaign Template
Apple used a basic template to showcase a single attribute of Macs that PCs either don’t have or have worse versions of in this set of 66 commercials that ran for more than three years. The ads, featuring two comedians on a white background, made it simple for Apple to exemplify their special functions, their ease of use, and their security features in a way that didn’t seem didactic and boring but rather appeared to be a side note to a comedy sketch.
To appeal globally, Apple tailored the videos to the country in which they were broadcast by selecting popular actors whose roles tended to embody either nerdy or cool: in the U.S., John Hodgman (PC) and Justin Long (Mac); in the U.K., David Mitchell (PC) and Robert Webb (Mac); in Japan, the comedy duo called The Rahmens.
The campaign went viral because of the simplicity, the country-specific tailoring of the set-up, the fact that the 66 unique shorts were all available online, and, importantly, because the TBWA agency and Apple found a way to make what amounted to rattling off positive product attributes over a three-year period feel continually fresh, hilarious, and something the consumer could look forward to (or check out online) all within a basic, repeatable template.
6. Newcastle, “Anna Kendrick”: Position Your Brand as the Outsider
A “faux Super Bowl commercial,” where Anna Kendrick, fresh off her Pitch Perfect star breakout, talked to her hairdresser about how she “almost” did a Super Bowl advertising campaign, was hailed as one of the best Super Bowl commercials of the year even though Newcastle didn’t have to buy any ad time (they played it around the Super Bowl and as a native advertisement on Gawker). Adweek called it an “ambush” and quoted Newcastle brand director Quinn Kilbury as saying, “It seemed like the obvious thing we had to do, and unfair to the world if we didn’t… the Super Bowl is great. The game is amazing, everyone loves the game. But it’s become much more about marketing in some ways, and the over-the-top ridiculousness that surrounds it.”
Knowing they couldn’t compete with the advertising budget of a market leader like Budweiser, Newcastle decided not to compete at all.
Mad Men‘s Don Draper once wisely said, “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” and that’s exactly what Newcastle did.
By changing the conversation to how much of a tired marketing tool the Super Bowl has become and using the newly minted star power of Kendrick in a non-Super Bowl commercial about the Super Bowl, Newcastle positioned itself as the cool outsider–and, importantly, the brand that “cool” consumers would want to be a part of.
7. Dos Equis, “The Most Interesting Man in the World”: Harness the Power of Slogans and Phrasal Templates
The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign, which began in 2006, also took a different approach to beer advertising: Rather than selling beer as a way to get attractive women to like you, Dos Equis positioned itself as a conduit to interestingness and distinction. “He is a man rich in stories and experiences, much the way the audience hopes to be in the future,” noted the marketing expert Francis Pruett of the ad’s main character.
What made it so successful was the phrase that Jonathan Goldsmith, who played the titular character, employed at the end of every commercial: “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” This launched the viral internet meme based on the phrasal template, “I don’t always [A], but when I do, I [B].” (For instance, “I don’t always look up things on my smartphone. But when I do, it’s to prove people wrong.”)
The campaign succeeded because it wasn’t viewed as solely an advertisement but also as a 30-second comedy clip that viewers, knowing the phrasal templates, could look forward to whenever the familiar colors and characters flickered on their screens. Once it turned into a meme, the brand’s message spread wildly, transcending the original ad while maintaining its protagonist, thereby acting as a constant reminder of the product even in entirely new and unrelated situations. It became not just a beer ad but an internet sensation that pushed forth the idea that Dos Equis was different and distinguished as well as youthful and web-savvy.
8. Nike, “Nike “: Make Everything Social
There’s no sport quite as isolating as long-distance running, in which you’re by yourself for sometimes hours at a time. But that didn’t stop Nike from finding a way to make running social by creating Nike and its Fuelband, which allow users to virtually train with star athletes, share their times and goals with an online community, and sync their progress and run maps to services like Facebook.
The social aspect didn’t just bring hardcore runners; it democratized the Nike brand and brought a whole new set of consumers: novices.
“It turned a platform that was designed for runners,” Nick Law, global COO of R/GA, told AdAge, “into a platform that was designed for anyone that wanted to be active.” By adding social aspects and online syncing capabilities to some of its core products, Nike was able to both keep its diehard athletes as well as attracting a wider public.
9. Progressive Insurance, “Flo”: A Light Tone Can Do Wonders
How do you make something as inherently dull as automobile insure feel fresh and interesting? Geico has had a talking Gecko for years and State Farm has used an authoritative, moralistic voice narrating dire situations, but Progressive took a different route: Casting stand-up comedian Stephanie Courtney as an over-the-top, overly made-up, bubbly sales assistant named Flo. The ad grabbed viewers’ attention with a similar trick to the “Get a Mac” ads, where one attribute of Progressive was divulged in a sitcom-y situation with Flo leaving the audience with a zinger comment.
The insight that made Progressive’s commercial such a hit was in understanding the public perception of insurance companies as tiring, bureaucratic, and humorless. By upending this notion, Progressive set itself apart from its competition and now has the most popular advertising campaign in the insurance market.
10. Tide-to-Go, “Interview”: Stay True to Your Brand’s Values
In the advertisement spot “Interview,” a young man interviewing for a job gets an anthropomorphized spot on his shirt, which talks to the interviewer, stealing the attention away from the interviewee. The young man uses his Tide-to-Go pen to make it disappear and, in doing so, reclaims the attention of the interviewer.
The ad is humorous but, more important, it is wholesome and appeals to the “family brand” dynamic that P&G puts at the center of its identity. Ranked as the highest viewed ad in 2008, according to YouTube’s AdBlitz, the ad went viral when P&G asked consumers to create spoofs and variations on ad, showing new scenarios in which the quick-acting Tide-to-Go pen could be used. By staying true to the “family friendly” brand value of P&G in the ad’s tone, underlining the simplicity of the product, and asking families to chime in with their own ideas, Tide created a sense of wholesome community while showcasing the simplicity and ease-of-use of arguably their new flagship product.
What’s the secret behind viral ad campaigns?
The best advertisements of the decade are, in many ways, beholden to the time in which they were produced (e.g., you couldn’t use Facebook integration for your brand before 2004). Yet the lessons are timeless.
Identifying and deconstructing norms, leveraging your company’s best market research, making your product social, giving consumers a sense of community with your brand, controlling your brand’s tone, and positioning your brand as either a market leader or an outsider depending on funding and brand image are lessons that can be applied to businesses across time.
New technologies and research capabilities have made much of this easier and more streamlined, but they have also given consumers higher expectations. Use these lessons to meet these expectations. Then soar beyond them.