Posts by Will Palley - New York

Brazil’s ‘citizen consumers’ use digital tools to air grievances, mobilize

Rio Surreal

As prices surge, inflation rises and customer service languishes, Brazil’s consumers are growing increasingly anxious about the cost of living. But while Brazilians have battled many frustrations over the years, for the first time they are turning to the Internet as a platform for airing grievances, commiserating and mobilizing the crowd.

With prices climbing steadily higher ahead of the World Cup, some residents of Rio de Janeiro have set up a Facebook group, Rio $urreal – Não Pague [Don’t Pay], focused on “exposing and boycotting the extortionate prices being charged by bars, restaurants and shops,” as The Guardian reports this week. (“Surreal,” a reference to the craziness of current costs, is a pun on Brazil’s currency, the real.) The page has garnered more than 179,000 likes, and what started in Rio has now expanded to São Paulo, Brasilia and Belém. As we explain in our recent report “The Brazil Opportunity: A Guide for Marketers,” there’s also BoicotaSP, another Facebook outlet where consumers identify businesses or brands they believe are exploitative, with the list serving as a database of places to boycott. And Reclame Aqui (Complain Here) is a website where Brazilians can post complaints about brands, products and customer service.

Brazil’s newly empowered “citizen consumers” are engaged and ready to challenge both government and business, aided by digital tools. As Brazilians take a more active role in shaping their world, they will not only fight perceived offenses committed by marketers but also expect brands to work with them to make things better. Heineken’s Delegates app, for instance, allows users to comment on bars they patronize and suggest ways to improve the experience.

Photo Credit: Rio $urreal

In São Paulo, Advil soothes pain of daily commute

Brazilian capital São Paulo is infamous for its traffic: Traffic jams on Friday evenings can stretch for many miles. What’s worse, given the Brazilian media’s propensity to focus on dramatic, gory stories, many drivers are bombarded with bad news along the way, only compounding the headache. So for one day, Advil stepped in to help reduce the pain of the commute by lightening drivers’ moods.

The painkiller brand partnered with Metro, one of the city’s largest daily papers, to create a cover that showcased positive stories. The biggest headline announced that the city’s famous and much-loved Ibirapuera Park would be staying open for a full 24 hours. On page 2, an Advil ad asked, “Did you feel like you didn’t have a headache on the first page?”

Several other brands have focused campaigns around upbeat news, including LG and Tropicana, which sponsored a Good News section on The Guardian’s site. And we’ve written about campaigns that have focused on easing anxiety for commuters in New York (also Tropicana) and Bogotá (Coca-Cola). Advil brought these themes together nicely. The brand also addresses The Super Stress Era, one of JWTIntelligence’s 10 Trends for 2013: As stress becomes a more pressing health concern, we’ll see brands and governments ramping up efforts to help prevent and reduce it.

Chase showcases its ‘mission to help’ small businesses

Four years after the financial crisis began, banks in the U.S. are still working to combat consumers’ negative perceptions of Wall Street. With good reason: According to a recent study we did, around 4 in 10 Americans consider financial institutions’ credit and lending practices an impediment to achieving the American Dream.

Back in 2010, we wrote about a campaign from JPMorgan Chase that sought to assure viewers by depicting the brand as an icon of responsible practices and an institution that’s all about helping the little guy. Now, Chase (the firm’s banking subsidiary) is showcasing how its Business Banking unit is assisting small businesses and communities in a campaign called Mission Main Street. A series of ads begin with the line “Every small business has a mission. At Chase, it’s our mission to help,” and then tell the story of one business (longer versions are housed on the campaign’s microsite). One shows the co-owner of a toy business explaining how a friendly Chase rep (“He understood our business, he had children himself”) allowed him and his partner to build their company. “With a little luck, with a little help from our partners like Chase and with a lot of hard work, Green Toys could be the next great American brand,” he says.

As we noted in our recent report on the American Dream, Americans currently see a range of obstacles to achieving the Dream; brands can position themselves as part of the solution, helping to enable success and knock down impediments. This campaign is a good example of a brand demonstrating how it’s doing this for small businesses.

Norway’s DnB Nor promises to keep confused parents grounded in reality

Parents face constant anxiety about whether they are doing the right thing for their children, and when to say yes vs. when to say no. Arguably, today’s parents are more indulgent than ever, and the inclination is to give in to every desire and demand. Norwegian financial services firm DnB Nor takes this “new normal” to a very abnormal extreme by showing a mom who has granted her teen boy’s fanciful childhood wish to marry his parents so they could stay together forever. The mother explains how they had to move to a rural area outside Norway to get married and are now spending the boy’s savings on his long-ago dream of a rocket ship that will fly to Mars and hand out ice cream. We’re clearly far outside the orbit of sanity.

The surreal spot ends by advising, “Don’t give your children what they want, give them what they need” and pointing viewers to a new savings account for children. DnB Nor’s promise is to help people act more intelligently when it comes to money (a message conveyed with somewhat less offbeat humor in a 2011 ad featuring George Clooney) and more profoundly, there’s an implicit promise to help parents stay grounded in reality, doing what’s really right for their kids.

Charles Schwab shows a friendly face giving overspenders a helping hand

Managing one’s finances responsibly is anxiety-provoking at any age, but especially for young people just getting started in life at a difficult economic time. We’ve spotlighted efforts by Australia’s UBank to educate Millennials about smart saving habits (“Live fast, save young”). Now Charles Schwab is targeting this cohort with a similar approach, positioning the brand as an advisory figure that can help change irresponsible financial behavior (“Don’t blow your cash”). In a new online video campaign titled “Oh Chuck! I Blew My Cash,” several videos portray Millennials chatting with company founder Charles R. Schwab about amusing incidents of ridiculous overspending.  One guy, for instance, has splurged on 90 pairs of sneakers, while a woman has bought pricey animal masks at a Renaissance fair. As they go on, Schwab remains cool and collected, offering advice on better ways the money might have been spent.

By illustrating real anecdotes (each vignette claims to be a true story), Schwab reminds viewers they’re not alone in their reckless habits. And by showing the company founder in conversation with these flummoxed spenders, the ads position the bank as an accessible and friendly but straight-talking confidant.

Esurance lets brand advocates (and some naysayers) do the talking

The auto insurance world is full of quirky spokespeople, from a talking gecko to Flo, the bubbly saleswoman. With multiple claims circulating from fictional characters, it can be tricky for consumers to determine whom to believe. Esurance addresses consumers’ concerns head on by acknowledging this and inviting people to talk with those they really trust: their peers.

A commercial points to the sometimes tenuous assertions of advertising, asking “What makes you trust a company?” The ad shows that neither a talking dog nor flashy commercials will inspire confidence. Instead, Esurance invites viewers to visit its Facebook profile and chat with real customers. Its Facebook page reads, “Keepin’ it real. Real customers. Real comments. (Really.),” and its wall features some gripes amid generally positive comments.

We’ve previously posted about inspiring confidence in uncertain consumers by using ads that feature uncensored, off-the-cuff consumer comments. (A Hyundai campaign, for instance, boasted of “Real people. Real comments.”) Esurance goes a step further by switching to social media and trusting that brand advocates will take over from there. This kind of transparency helps to inspire confidence while also allowing people to start a dialogue with the brand.

Heineken taps into FOMO to promote responsible drinking

Convincing consumers to drink responsibly is no small task. Local authorities often create public service initiatives that confront drinkers with the potentially brutal consequences of over-indulging. The New York City Health Department, for example, is running an ad campaign that shows excessive drinking leading to violence and even hospitalization. And a controversial campaign from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board played up the link between alcohol abuse and rape. While these are designed to provoke guilt and shame among the target audience, one study has questioned the efficacy of this strategy.

By contrast, Heineken’s recently launched “Sunrise” campaign works to inspire a different anxiety: tapping into FOMO, or the fear of missing out. An 85-second video shows a man drinking responsibly at an epic Heineken-sponsored party; while some partyers appear to become incapacitated, this man eventually walks out to enjoy the sunrise with a sexy woman on his arm (celebrity DJ Audrey Napoleon). The tagline: “Sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers.” A social media component asks all-night partyers to “Tweet your sunrise and celebrate with the world.”

Here, drinking too much means missing out on the best parts of a great night out. It’s a more subtle approach that spotlights the upside of curbing one’s intake: While a few beers can help fuel the fun times, any more than that and you risk dropping out of the festivities too soon.

Ameriprise and Ford emphasize fiscal responsibility

We saw some marketers highlighting their bailout-free credentials in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. government’s bailouts, like under-the-radar firm Sun Life Financial. This still seems to be a selling point today. Financial services firm Ameriprise is underscoring its long heritage and the fact that it’s never taken a bailout in two commercials featuring Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Errol Morris (the one below, and this one). Ameriprise highlights its ongoing self-reliance and financial solvency, reassuring viewers that it will be there when you need it.

Ford spotlighted the fact that it wasn’t among the automakers getting bailout funds in one commercial in its ongoing campaign featuring real customers speaking in a press conference-style setup. A Ford owner explains he chose the brand because “I wasn’t going to buy any other car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that’s standing on their own.” There was some minor political flap over the ad, which is no longer airing, pointing to how heated a topic the bailout remains.

With the ongoing Occupy protests and the ever-worsening European debt crisis, anxiety about fiscal responsibility and stability remains high. Watch for more American brands to assure consumers they are stable, dependable companies and responsible corporate citizens—and, in that respect, closely aligned with traditional American values.

Sick friend? Heinz says, send a soup!

In the spirit of good old chicken soup, a new Heinz program allows U.K. customers to send a personalized can of soup to sick friends, via F-commerce. Upon liking the Heinz soup Facebook page, users can choose between two classic flavors (Cream of Chicken and Cream of Tomato); then they create a custom “Get well” message, to be printed on the front of the can. Heinz sends the product directly to the recipient. The total price is £1.99 (roughly $3).

Soup is a classic comfort food, and this promotion not only reinforces that for Heinz but provides an outlet for giving (a comfort to the purchaser) and turns the can of soup into a way to express caring. This works especially well for an iconic brand (Cream of Tomato soup was first imported to the U.K. in 1910), with Heinz’s heritage representing an additional source of comfort.

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T-Mobile’s You Fix gives U.K. consumers ‘spend control’

Committing to a 12-month mobile contract can be a bit anxiety-provoking in this economy, so service provider T-Mobile is aiming to make U.K. consumers more comfortable with annual plans via its new You Fix program. Unlike most other such plans, which can lock consumers in for 24 months with few opportunities to make changes, T-Mobile’s program is a 12-month offering, with built-in flexibility. Customers select from a range of low-cost plans, but if they find their choice too restrictive, they have a “pay as you go” option to buy modular packages for extra minutes or texts. The handset is free.

For consumers worried about incurring additional fees, You Fix provides the chance to exercise what T-Mobile refers to as “spend control” and avoid “nasty surprises” at the end of the month. (A stunt to promote You Fix involved fake traffic officers giving parking fines—the nasty surprise—to legally parked drivers, who ultimately realized there was actually cash in the faux tickets.) This easy solution provides basic mobile plans to financially strapped consumers, as well as the latest handset, another plus for tech-hungry, cash-poor shoppers. Expect more of these hybrid offerings, which require some commitment from the consumer but provide greater flexibility and peace of mind.

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