Brands: Know Your Place

As a Creative, I have much admiration for brands that focus their efforts on the greater good, or a poignant social issue. Brands that reach beyond their established messaging and positioning to inspire something greater, and bridge communities through shared passion and cause. These brands speak beyond their product, placement and price to create meaningful experiences.

Currently, politics and opinions are deeply polarized with the U.S., much more so than in many decades past. And as a result, we see many brands reaching deep within themselves to establish a position on the number of prevalent issues, including human rights, the environment, immigration and female empowerment.

During the most recent Super Bowl (LI) and its much anticipated TV commercials, we were presented by a number of brands like Budweiser, Audi and Airbnb that took a position on some of these issues. For the most part, they were well-crafted and audience appropriate for their brands. It is highly likely that these creatives behind the campaigns employed qualitative and quantitative data to support the messages, and how they might be perceived. And ultimately, even if the messaging was a risk, these brands contained the risk within the elasticity of their brand and their audiences.

Know Your Audience

Also during the Super Bowl, 84 Lumber went out on a limb with an emotional and highly engaging story about immigration and what we’ve come to know as “the wall”. As a film maker and lover of everything Latino, I thought the effort was beautifully executed; in fact, I still find myself watching it. But, as a brand marketer, I believe the campaign was a disaster. The essential downfall, is that 84 Lumber got involved in a conversation that was much too far from its brand and its customer base. They didn’t fully know their place, the audience they intended to reach, and how that audience might respond to such a message.

As a brand strategist I might ask, did they employ social listening and a linguistics analysis around their brand? Gather as much relevant customer data and analytics as possible first, and then test before going live? Given the outcome of the ad and the backlash surrounding it, it seems that the brand didn’t do the necessary research to create something that resonated well with their audience. And as a result of the TV spot, 84 Lumber still finds themselves in the midst of a PR nightmare, and corresponding customer exodus.

Align With Your Brand

In significant contrast to the 84 Lumber example is that of Honey Nut Cheerios. True to who they are – a loved, non-confrontational, Middle America brand, they are simply alerting us to an issue that is of concern: bees. This is especially brand-relevant for Cheerios, as bees produce honey, a key ingredient in the product. Although the declining bee population could ultimately result in an alarming agricultural collapse and famine, the brand is allowing our own intellect and foraging of content to draw that conclusion—they themselves are not acting as the messenger of doom. They are simply asking consumers to consider the reality of the situation, and to help bring back an environment where bees can thrive. Key, in fact, paramount, in the messaging and positioning here are the terms “ask” and “help – both of which constitute community, unity, and cooperation. Not “fight”, “confront” or “battle”.

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Cheerios alerts and educates us in their efforts via smart tactics that begin on the cereal box in the ghost-like absence of Buzz the bee. In addition, the box boldly displays the messaging “Help Bring Back the Bees”. The customer journey includes savvy hashtag use, social engagement, and an educational microsite with relevant content and the opportunity to receive free flower seeds to encourage bee restoration. I believe this is going to prove very successful for Cheerios, and give the brand deeper relevance in the lives of their advocates, as well as attract new customers. As a brand facing important environmental issues, they’ve demonstrated that they both know their brand, and know their customer.

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