The recession may be long over, but consumers remain anxious about their expenses and savvy about finding the lowest prices. Catering to this mindset, the insurance provider Esurance is now offering an online tool, Fuelcaster, that predicts whether local gas prices will go up or down in the next 24 hours—users input a ZIP code and see a “buy” or “wait” recommendation (much as Kayak does with plane fares), along with the current prices at nearby gas stations. The company says Fuelcaster relies on “a proprietary algorithm that incorporates pricing signals from industry sources” and claims it’s the first such tool in the U.S. to predict gas prices.
In providing drivers with a free service that’s unrelated to the company’s core business of insurance but fits with its positioning as a value choice for digitally savvy consumers, Esurance illustrates how to put the consumer at the core of marketing initiatives. More brands are starting to focus on winning loyalty and engagement by using technology to address real consumer needs rather than taking a just-because-we-can approach to tech, which may briefly intrigue consumers but rarely creates real affinity.
The economic downturn has fostered a certain type of commercial that aims to reassure Americans anxious about the decline of domestic manufacturing—that goods are still being made in America and that the marketer in question is helping to ensure this. There’s generally a portentous voiceover, reading copy that strives to be stirring and poetic. “The things that make us Americans are the things we make,” began a Jeep Grand Cherokee commercial that we wrote about back in 2010. “This has always been a nation of builders, craftsmen, men and women for whom straight stitches and clean welds were matters of personal pride.” Parent company Chrysler continued the theme with the Super Bowl spot “Halftime in America,” with Clint Eastwood telling Americans that “This country can’t be knocked out with one punch.” Levi’s centered artsy ads around the failing steel town of Braddock, Pa.
Now Walmart joins this list, promoting its investment of $250 billion over 10 years in products that support “American Jobs.” In “I Am a Factory,” we see a shuttered factory as Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs intones: “At one time, I made things. I opened my doors to all. And together, we filled pallets and trucks. I was mighty, and then one day, the gears stopped turning.” We see the factory comes to life again, as the voiceover concludes with determination, “But I’m still here, and I believe I will rise again.” Two other ads skip the declarations and rely on music instead: “Lights On” depicts a factory coming to life, and “Working Man” uses the Rush song of the same name, showing folks laboring in factories.
The ads won’t silence criticism of Walmart’s labor practices—Rowe has found himself defending the retailer’s initiative on social media—but may help retain some loyalty among a customer base that’s largely still grappling with the effects of the downturn.
We’ve seen a spate of car commercials that target dads anxious about keeping their kids safe. A sentimental 2012 Volkswagen spot from the U.K. shows a dad caring for his daughter over the years until finally buying her a Polo as she goes off to college. (In the U.S., Volkswagen has also pitched its Jetta to safety-conscious young parents.) In a 2013 Subaru ad, a dad with a young daughter admits, “I’m overprotective”—and that’s why he chooses the brand.
Now, we have Subaru’s “Flat Tire,” in which a teen girl works to change a tire in the rain—a task assigned by her dad, as we learn when he comes over to say, “Told you you could do it,” as she finishes up. In voiceover he adds, “I want her to be safe, so I taught her what I could, and got her a Subaru.” And then there’s “Dad’s Sixth Sense,” one of two Super Bowl spots from Hyundai, in which a dad saves his son from myriad physical mishaps as the kid grows up, whether it’s nearly getting kicked by a kid on the swings or whacked by a bat meant for a piñata. Ultimately, however, it’s Hyundai’s auto emergency braking that saves the kid, now a teen driver who’s distracted by a pretty girl as he steers a Genesis down the block.
This type of pitch will connect with today’s worrywart parents (and stereotypically it’s the dad in charge of all things car-related), and the emotional component behind these messages layers a sweet tone onto the sell.
Last month we wrote about an ad for Unilever’s sustainability initiative: Couples expecting a child watch a video that shows images of war and poverty before moving on to describe innovations demonstrating that, in fact, “there has never been a better time to create a brighter future for everyone on the planet and for those yet to come.” In a similar but more pop culture-y vein, a Millennial-focused commercial for the Honda Civic starts off by showing some of the things young people are anxious about today—news about Wall Street crises and home foreclosures, environmental issues like melting glaciers—before tapping into the generation’s naturally optimistic mindset and focusing on both silly and serious reasons to feel positive.
“Today is pretty bad,” laments the lead singer of Vintage Trouble, the bluesy band seen in the spot, which runs 30 seconds on TV and for a full 2:38 online. But it’s really not so bad, counter a series of perky Millennials—science, selfies, puppies, even Nyan Cat are all reasons for optimism. (The spot gets specific about new innovations, naming “meta-materials, artificial blood, space mining, genetic therapy, biotech, 3D printers.”) The band’s lyrics soon become more upbeat too: “For the most part, give or take, today is actually … pretty great.”
Millennials, observes Atlantic correspondent James Fallows, are “tired of hearing that everything is terrible.” By contrast, this approach represents a “bolder ‘glass is way more than half full’ pitch than I recall seeing in any other political or commercial campaign,” he writes, while avoiding a “boosterish/denialist” tone. While the multitude of pop culture references feels like overkill in the longer version, the campaign smartly attempts to connect with the target audience by reflecting their hope-fueled mindset.
It seems that British consumers are beset by the blues at this time of year. Last January, we wrote about a commercial from The Sun newspaper in which a young girl declares that “January sucks” and suggests that we “kick January where there ain’t no sun.” Now Heat, which uses the tagline “Heat makes you happy,” is telling readers that the magazine is “turning the most depressing month of the year into the happiest.”
The effort is focused around a lighthearted petition to David Cameron to create a public holiday on the third Monday in January and call it Blue Monday. A holiday would help counteract the “recipe for national misery” that comes with bleak weather and the financial fallout of the holiday season. On this year’s “Blue Monday,” the brand will attempt to cheer up consumers with a “kitten cam,” a live stream from a pet shelter (viewers will be able to adopt an animal too). Hey, you can’t go wrong with kittens at any time of year, especially during one of the lowest points for consumer mood.
Photo Credit: Heat
Inevitably, many of us have already fallen short of our New Year’s resolutions, or will soon enough—it’s the annual cycle of optimism and hope, followed by anxiety about failing to live up to our aspirations. Only 8 percent of Americans achieve goals set out in their resolutions, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, a data point cited in a release for Balance Bar’s “anti-resolutions pledge” (a sweepstakes for a fitness-resort vacation). In keeping with the brand’s theme of balance, the marketer asks consumers to pledge to take small steps each month to make realistic lifestyle changes rather than create overly ambitious resolutions at the start of the year.
As part of the campaign, Balance is working with “lifestyle expert” Laurel House, aka The QuickieChick, who created 12 months’ worth of “realistic and achievable” tips, available at Balance.com. “For a snack, do you choose a bag of chips or do you choose a nutritionally sound Balance Bar?” asks Balance’s CMO in the release. “Not a life-changing decision, but a small one that can have benefits today and down the road.” The message—that Balance provides an easy alternative to junk food—makes sense at a time when consumers are increasingly wary of processed foods of all stripes.
Photo Credit: Balance
For Special K’s latest “More Than a Number” campaign, the brand invited women to a jeans giveaway: The gimmick was that instead of a size number on the pants, labels bore various positive words (“fierce,” “vivacious,” etc.). A tape measure featuring those words in place of measurements helped women figure out which jeans to try. In a video, women talk about how they hate shopping for jeans, and Special K asks, “Why do we let the size of our jeans measure our worth?” The final message: “Let’s rethink what defines us.”
This effort is similar to a U.K. initiative from Special K that we wrote about last year, in which women weighed themselves and saw encouraging words rather than numbers. At the time, we noted a spate of other campaigns that aimed to make women more confident in themselves rather than inducing anxiety by promoting unattainable beauty standards. This year, Dove’s hugely popular “Real Beauty Sketches” continued that theme.
New York City is now addressing the issue of body image and self-esteem with its Girls Project, which appears to be the first such campaign sponsored by a municipality, according to The New York Times. Bus and subway ads show smiling girls with the headline “I’m a girl. I’m beautiful the way I am” and lines like, “I’m funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, healthy, friendly and caring.” The word “beautiful” has sparked some criticism—that the campaign should emphasize values other than beauty—although the website does better than the ads, explaining that the project aims to “help girls believe their value comes from their character, skills, and attributes—not appearance.” Watch for more marketers to get behind this type of positive messaging, and expand it to include the male gender as well.
Photo Credit: The City of New York
We’ve seen brands responding to Millennial anxiety—brought on by high unemployment and ongoing economic malaise—both by addressing the jobs issue directly (Campari, McDonald’s, Benetton) and by aiming to inspire, as Levi’s has done with its “Go Forth” effort. Now two spirits brands are taking the latter course to target this generation, telling them to “Transform today” and “Defy the odds” in global campaigns.
Absolut’s “Transform Today” campaign continues the vodka brand’s focus on artists, spotlighting four young creatives: a fashion designer, a digital media artist, a graphic novelist and the artist/musician Woodkid, whose song “Ghost Lights” is the soundtrack to a manifesto spot. They are all “recreating themselves in order to become something more.” Print ads feature go-get-’em slogans like “Dare to think beyond” and “See where you take you.” Absolut’s VP of global marketing tells Forbes: “The campaign is to put a stake in the ground about what we believe in as a brand, which is ‘The future is not a given, it is what you create.’”
Johnnie Walker’s new iteration of its “Keep Walking” campaign also looks to the future—five years ahead, in the form of “a message of hope from a successful man to his younger self.” A TV commercial depicts “people trying to move themselves forward, with one foot in the frustrations of today’s workplace and an eye on the potential of the future.” The ad is empathetic—“You’re doing a job you don’t get. You’ve got talent no one’s ever seen”—before assuring young viewers that the future promises better: “One day you’ll rise up, defy the odds, silence the doubters.”
We’ve described Millennials as Generation Go: Rather than wallowing in the idea that they’re a Lost Generation, this generation is both resilient and resourceful, and notably entrepreneurial-minded. Brands that tap into this spirit will strike a chord.
As we’ve previously noted, over the past few years some brands have been playing up their domestic provenance to appeal to American and British consumers anxious about jobs disappearing and their nations losing ground as emerging markets rise. Now, at a time of swelling nationalist pride around the royal baby’s birth, John Lewis is promoting British manufacturing by emphasizing products made in the U.K.
Although two-thirds of the retailer’s goods are manufactured outside Britain, John Lewis is highlighting domestically made products by marking them with the Union Jack. On its website, the company explains that it’s working with around 130 British manufacturers “in celebration of the nation’s skills and craftsmanship.” Buying a British-made carpet, for instance, “means you support British farming,” since carpet makers are the country’s biggest users of local wool.
While John Lewis’s managing director acknowledges that locally manufactured products will never be the cheapest, he believes there is a sweet spot “in terms of design, quality and value.” With anxieties stemming from the economic crisis likely to linger even as consumer spending starts rising in the U.K., it’s a good time to appeal to national pride.
Photo Credit: John Lewis
We recently posted about hypermarket chain Leclerc and its price-comparison site Quiestlemoinscher.com (“who is the less expensive”), a popular tool for French shoppers. With consumers in many markets anxious about the cost of everyday goods and exceedingly price-sensitive, shoppers are ever more apt to research the lowest-price options. In response, mySupermarket aims to “bring price transparency to the shopping experience and help you shop smart.” The online-shopping service launched in 2006 in the U.K., where it claims 2.9 million registered users, and is now expanding to the U.S.
In the U.S., the service lets shoppers choose among staples sold by eight major retailers (Amazon, Walmart, Target, Soap.com, Diapers.com, Drugstore.com, Walgreens and Costco), alerting users when they can save further by choosing a different size or alternative product. Shoppers check out via mySupermarket, which “optimize[s] your cart to get you free shipping,” according to a promotional video. According to TechCrunch, the company is also planning a mobile app that would notify shoppers about relevant promotions when they’re in stores.
While many brick-and-mortar retailers are fretting about showrooming, it’s a trend that generally hasn’t applied to supermarkets—but they’re still vulnerable in the face of new digital tools that give consumers more workarounds and comprehensive data. At the same time, however, marketers might find opportunities here: The company told TechCrunch that its app will enable brands to communicate with opted-in consumers—for instance, alerting them to price decreases on favorite items or sending a reminder to stock up on various staples.
Photo Credit: mySupermarket