Issues like global warming, terrorism, food safety, pollution, epidemics, etc., stir up dark visions of the future among many. And while potential parents have long asked, “Why bring a child into this world?”, the question seems increasingly potent. Unilever addresses this anxiety in a documentary-style four-minute video that ties into its new Project Sunlight sustainability initiative, which is aimed at “[creating] a better future for our children.” The theme seems to be hitting a nerve, with the film reaching No. 4 on Ad Age’s Viral Video chart last week and accumulating almost 8 million YouTube views since its Nov. 19 release.
The ad shows pregnant couples from around the world speaking about their anxieties associated with becoming parents, with one man saying, “We are scared—we are scared seeing the present, and we are scared for the future.” They are then shown a video that starts with a somber tone and images of war and poverty, but then turns into positive message: A voice-over explains that thanks to various Unilever initiatives, more crops are being grown every day, clean drinking water is becoming available to hundreds of millions, and everyday products will help prevent illnesses that affect millions of children today.
The spot ends with the words, “Breathe calmly—bring your child into this world; there has never been a better time to create a brighter future for everyone on the planet and for those yet to come.” Unilever is taking an almost universal worry among new parents and showing a different way of looking at the issue—focusing on the positives rather than the negatives—and its own role in that more hopeful outlook.
Armed with myriad tutorials and information from across the Web, today’s consumers feel empowered and confident to take on just about any project. But they may still have questions or self-doubt, and should things go completely awry, online tutorials offer no place to turn for quick assistance. Google’s recently launched Helpouts—“Real help from real people in real time”—aims to connect consumers with experts who can teach or troubleshoot via around-the-clock video chats.
Helpouts are available in a wide range of categories including health, fashion and beauty, home and garden, art and music, and cooking. The platform has 1,000 vetted experts so far, some of whom represent brands, among them Weight Watchers, Rosetta Stone and Sephora. Some of these are free, and some have fees, paid in 15-minute or 1-minute increments. Rather than trying to provide one-size-fits-all solutions for consumers, Google is positioning itself as a key player in helping people learn and solve problems.
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.
Two years ago, we wrote about FirstBank’s “History Lessons” campaign, which cautioned consumers to stick to sound financial decisions, highlighting examples of past investments gone wrong (Holland’s tulip mania in 1637, stock speculation in 1929 and the recent housing bubble). With consumers anxious over being caught in a vulnerable financial position, the ad dissuaded them from “Get rich quick” schemes. Now, the Colorado-based bank wants to “Restore your faith in free.”
A commercial shows a brand new leather couch, flat-screen TV and floor lamp in the middle of a public square, with a large sign declaring “Free.” Footage captures passersby strolling past the items with a fleeting glance, looking around for “the catch” or approaching with extreme skepticism. Some go in for a closer look, but poking and prodding does little to assuage their doubts. The voiceover asks: “Have you ever noticed how skeptical people are of ‘free’? As if the word ‘free’ automatically means something must be wrong. But what if ‘free’ really just meant ‘free’?” The ad closes with FirstBank’s free offerings.
Print ads proclaimed “Free happens” and included giveaways that ranged from free pedicab rides to and from Colorado Rockies home games to 1,500 free meals from a food truck, which posted a sign stating, “There is such a thing as a free lunch.”
It’s easy to be skeptical and cynical today, so FirstBank reminds consumers that if they can turn off their anxiety, not everything is too good to be true.
Photo Credit: FirstBank
During the 16-day shutdown of the U.S. government, around 800,000 federal employees were furloughed without pay. While some brands referenced the shutdown via social media—expressing shared frustration with citizens or jokingly ensuring consumers that they wouldn’t be shutting down—others made efforts to ease the burden of those out-of-work employees, even if it was little more than a free cup of coffee. For example, AMC offered a free small popcorn to anyone with a valid government or military ID, while Starbucks—which also petitioned Congress to reopen the government—instituted a “pay it forward” offering, giving a free coffee to any customer who bought someone else their favorite drink, as part of its “Come Together” campaign.
When it came to the larger financial difficulties that furloughed employees faced, several companies offered some relief. TD Bank launched TD Cares, which allowed customers to incur checking overdrafts at no cost, request late-fee refunds on Visa card payments and receive mortgage assistance. Citizens Bank made a similar offer to affected customers. Hyundai added a payment deferral plan for federal employees to its Assurance program, and Toyota announced “payment relief options” to those affected, including businesses hurt by the shutdown.
From local retailers to multinationals, a range of companies were flexible enough to recognize that some customers needed a boost—and whether it was a small token or a crucial payment deferral, the effort signaled that the brand could relate to those going through a difficult time through no fault of their own. During such a financially stressful and uncertain event, even the little things can be reassuring.
Photo Credit: Starbucks
Starbucks has a track record of addressing social and political issues causing consternation among consumers, from its progressive stance on gun control and smoking to supporting and leading job creation initiatives. With Americans anxious about the government shutdown, Starbucks created a petition to Congress—asking it to reopen the government, pay U.S. debts on time to avoid another crisis, and pass a long-term budget deal by the end of the year—and provided it in U.S. stores from Oct. 11–13 for employees or customers to sign. This was accompanied by full-page ads in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, and appeared on the NASDAQ MarketSite Tower in Times Square.
Starbucks announced yesterday that the signatures were approaching 2 million as they continued to tally the total. Starbucks’ Facebook post about the petition earned nearly 190,000 likes, and an Instagram video of CEO Howard Schultz signing the petition collected more than 30,000 likes. Today, the company plans to deliver the collected petitions to Congress and President Obama.
Using its scale, Starbucks provided customers with an actionable outlet as they watched the government approach an unprecedented default. The initiative provided strength in numbers for many who were unlikely to take action as a lone voice.
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.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of Coca-Cola’s Summer Love Festival: three days of parties, games, spas and music for Israeli teens—all with unlimited access to Coca-Cola. Of course, not every teenager who’d like to go can attend, setting up those who are absent for a serious case of FOMO: the fear of missing out, and in this case, the uneasy feeling that your peers are having a better time than you are. So Coca-Cola created a solution for a few of those left out: Social Robots, which allowed teens to join the fun virtually.
Controlled by users from their homes, these robots wheeled around the camp, equipped with webcams and microphones that allowed for interaction with festival-goers. Users could watch shows and even participate in competitions. Teens at the festival embraced the novel avatars, dancing and sunbathing with them. The robots also attracted attention from local media outlets.
By addressing FOMO—which is especially strong among social media-immersed teens—with a creative use of robots, Coca-Cola injected some novelty into this year’s festival, boosted engagement among attendees and brought its “Share the happiness” theme to life in yet another way. (Coca-Cola’s “Small World Machines” in India and Pakistan are another recent example.) Meanwhile, robot avatars have interesting potential, allowing brands to bring vicarious enjoyment to far-flung consumers; as part of its “Three Minutes in Italy” promotion, San Pellegrino recently let people take virtual tours of Taormina in Sicily using five remotely controlled robots.
Coca-Cola presents: The Social Robot from Gefen Team on Vimeo.
Chipotle’s new animated short film and mobile game, designed to “change the way the world thinks about its fast food,” follows on from 2011’s “Back to the Start.” That film, which was later edited into a TV commercial, depicts a family pig farm that turns into an “industrial animal factory” before the farmer regrets the move and reverts to his older ways. The latest, featuring Fiona Apple’s “hypnotic” cover of “Pure Imagination” from the original Willy Wonka, shows a young scarecrow caught up in the dark, menacing world of Big Food production. Authoritarian crows inject poultry with hormones and package meat labeled “100% beef-ish!” In both the movie and the game, the scarecrow must break out of the assembly line and forge his own path, growing food naturally to “cultivate a better world.”
As we noted in our 10 Trends for 2012 report, consumers are becoming more concerned about sustainability, a trend that’s on the rise. They’ve also become anxious about the processes behind food production (even spurring McDonald’s in Australia, for instance, to sponsor a TV film showing a group of Australians touring its operations, from farm to factory to retail). Chipotle harnesses these concerns and uses them to direct the public to a friendlier alternative: “The more you know about where your food comes from and what it takes to produce it, the more likely you are to take care in seeking out something that’s raised responsibly,” says Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s CMO, in a behind-the-scenes video.
While many are praising the film’s message, others have called it fear marketing that takes advantage of urban consumers’ ideological anxieties. While the film does stoke anxieties, it’s likely targeted at consumers already harboring concerns about their food and looking for alternatives.