Two years ago we wrote about McDonald’s’ transparency kick in the U.K. (the site What Makes McDonald’s) and Canada, where yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca invited consumers to ask whatever questions they had, “even the tough ones.” Those efforts followed an Australian TV documentary sponsored by the brand, McDonald’s Gets Grilled, which showed several consumers touring various company operations, sometimes asking challenging questions. The latest effort to address anxieties about fast food—exactly how it’s made and with what ingredients, etc.—is an American campaign that answers consumers’ most frequently asked questions.
A YouTube video series features Grant Imahara from the show MythBusters visiting McDonald’s suppliers. Another video shows people asking questions at an outdoor ad that solicited queries. Naturally these are all questions that McDonald’s can answer easily; answers are posted online (e.g., Chicken McNuggets do not contain pink slime and are made from the tenderloin, breast and rib, ground with a bit of chicken skin and a marinade). The company is also soliciting questions via tweet and tweeting responses.
The simple act of opening up to questions may reassure some of today’s increasingly skeptical consumers. But as the ranks of curious, educated and anxious eaters keep growing, McDonald’s will have to do more to boost confidence that it sells “real” food made from wholesome ingredients. With both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola stumbling at the moment—“Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors,” writes Slate—we’ll see food companies not only marketing in new ways but also changing their products to meet rising demand for better-for-you ingredients.
Today’s tech-savvy consumers expect banks to enable myriad ways to manage money digitally. But for those who still shy away from technology, especially older consumers, these increasingly sophisticated offerings fall on deaf ears. In the U.K., Barclays has been attempting to ease the anxieties of the tech-unsavvy with 7,000 employees dubbed Digital Eagles. These tech tutors can help consumers not only with online and mobile banking but any of the tasks that have become routine for many, like making a call via Skype. Consumers meet the Digital Eagles at Tea and Teach sessions held at bank branches.
In a press release, a Barclays exec explains: “We want to take customers and non-customers on a journey to improve their technology capabilities and feel confident to embrace the new digital revolution, so they can reap the benefits of being online. Whether they’re 10 or 110, we don’t want to leave anyone behind.” Barclays positions the service in part as a way to avoid family stress, noting that more than 11 million Britons are “experiencing family arguments because of a lack of digital know-how.” With Barclays pushing its payment app Pingit and a contactless-payment wristband, the company is targeting both early adopters and the other end of the spectrum, showing people how to dip a toe or two into the digital world and why they might want to.
Last year, we posted a few items about brands aiming to make women in India feel more secure in the face of harassment and violence (for example, the telecom MTS India launched a plan that permits women to make calls despite a negative balance). Now an innovative new product from JWT Singapore in support of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) addresses the issue of women’s safety with a wearable device, the Guardian Angel.
The chic $120 pendant can be worn as a necklace or bracelet and works in conjunction with a smartphone app. It has two uses: Clicking a button on the device during an uncomfortable situation triggers a call to the wearer’s phone, and in more precarious situations, pressing the button for three seconds sends an emergency text that includes details on the sender’s location to a designated contact. Ten percent of each sale goes to AWARE. The Guardian Angel points to the potential of wearables in the area of personal safety and the creative ways that brands can use new technologies to help alleviate consumer fears.
Photo Credit: Guardian Angel
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