As most people sit down to watch the Primetime Emmys on September 22, they might be rooting for their favorite shows or actors to take home the coveted award.
But, as a marketing blogger, one of the categories I'll be paying attention to this year is "Outstanding Commercial."
While these ads are almost always high-quality and require a big budget, they still use basic marketing tactics, such as storytelling and playing on human emotions, to successfully boost brand awareness. These are tactics any brand, big or small, can take advantage of.
Because more and more people prefer to learn about products through video, looking at popular commercials for marketing inspiration could be incredibly beneficial to your strategy.
Although you probably can't hire celebrities to promote your products, these commercials could still give you ideas for scalable video content that boosts brand awareness.
To help you learn from the best of the best, I've compiled a list of fascinating 2019 and 2018 Outstanding Commercial nominees. I've also included a few takeaways that video marketers can learn from each.
4 Outstanding Commercial Nominees of 2019
"A Great Day in Hollywood" (Netflix)
In this Netflix ad, the streaming service celebrates the talented and diverse range of black actors, writers, and showrunners creating award-winning content on the platform. The commercial, narrated by Stranger Things actor Caleb McLaughlin, showcases 47 of actors, writers, and crew members who "represent a limitless range of identities" in Netflix shows and movies.
As McLaughlin narrates, he makes empowering statements about how far black talent has come. For example, at one point he explains that we are living in a time when "black women are boldly the lead character, whether inmates or scholars."
The commercial shows the faces of a few actors, including Laverne Cox of Orange Is the New Black. Then it slowly pans out to the group. They are posed similarly to a famous 1958 photograph of black jazz legends, titled "A Great Day in Harlem."
At the end of the commercial, McLaughlin exclaims, “This is not a moment. This is a movement.”
The ad was part of Netflix's larger campaign to highlight its more than 20 shows and movies created by black talent, such as Dear Black People and She's Gotta Have It.
In this ad, Netflix takes a stand for diversity and gives a nod to inspiring black musicians of the past. This type of ad feels motivational and optimistic and leaves viewers on a high note. People who watch will know that Netflix values different backgrounds as well as the creativity and unique storylines that can come from them.
Aside from spreading an important, positive message, this strategy also allows Netflix to highlight and remind viewers of its track record for investing in inclusive, groundbreaking content.
"Behind the Mac -- Make Something Wonderful" (Apple)
In this example, Apple leverages found footage to present a black and white slideshow of celebrities like Oprah, Bono, and Serena Williams working on their MacBooks. Because these images are candid and not posed, viewers get a glimpse of these celebrities' day-to-day lives, while also seeing images of MacBooks being used.
Rather than simply showing models or product shots, Apple uses candid shots to prove to prospective customers that successful people they recognize are using the product.
Text-based reviews or customer testimonials are great, but a picture or video of someone successfully using a product is worth at least a thousand words.
And, because viewers associate the product with success and popularity, they might trust that it will be the best computer for them, too.
If you sell a product that's on the higher end, one video marketing strategy you could use is telling a story that makes people trust that they're investing in a credible item or service. You could do this through videos that show successful or influential customers using your product, or with a video that explains how your product can be helpful to a variety of different people.
For example, if you're marketing an upscale fashion company, you could encourage happy customers to send you photos of themselves in your business attire. Then, you could create a video of real-life people wearing your clothing at work, on business trips, or at company outings. People might watch this and see that the clothing is popular and worn by people in a number of different business settings.
"Don't Mess With Mother" (Apple)
This ad is similar to another spot from Apple that was nominated for the 2018 Outstanding Commercial Emmy. In the first version of the ad, called "Earth: Shot on iPhone," Apple showed a montage of videos and photos of nature taken with the iPhone X. This year, they did essentially the same thing with the iPhone XS.
While both versions focus on nature footage, the new version pays tribute to Mother Nature specifically. Before the imagery is shown, viewers see the title of "Don't Mess With Mother: Earth Shot on iPhone."
The ad then opens with footage animals, like sharks and crocodiles, preparing to attack. As the video continues, you begin to see shots of storms and volcano explosions. Then, the animals all start opening their mouths and begin to chomp in the direction of the camera. It ends with the same opening statement of, "Don't mess with Mother."
This is an action-packed example of how a brand leverages and highlights its product's strengths. A key feature of both the iPhone X and XS was the cameras. So, Apple used the phones to create a crisp and clear commercial that was both visually stunning and showed the power of its product.
Along with playing up visual strengths, Apple chooses Earth as the film subject. Not only does nature provide great visuals, but this ad might also be more memorable for those who are interested in sustainability, animals, and the environment.
Alternatively, this strategy could be helpful for businesses that sell visual tools, like cameras or video software. If your product can help create a crisp beautiful photo, you can create a montage of photos or videos that displays the product's strength.
"Dream Crazy" (Nike)
"Dream Crazy" begins with a narration saying, “If people say your dreams are crazy -- If they laugh at what you think you can do -- good. Stay that way. Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult. It's a compliment."
Then, the ad shows a montage of athletes, like Serena Williams, winning major sports matches. As each win is shown, the narrator hints to a lesser achievement that the athletes would not settle for.
In Williams' case, the narrator says, "If you're a girl from Compton, don't just become a tennis player, become the greatest athlete ever."
While the Nike commercial focuses on sports achievements, it pivots dramatically at the end as it reveals the football player and activist, Colin Kaepernick, as the narrator. As he turns to the camera, he says, "So don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough.”
Although the ad might speak to athletes, it could also intrigue others who want to achieve greatness, make change, or take risks for something they believe in, like Kaepernick.
Sneakers aren't just worn by athletes, so this style of speaking to a wider audience -- while still highlighting your brand -- is a strong strategy.
By far, the most important takeaway is that you can gain a great deal of brand awareness and maybe even trust by promoting positive messages. While people know Nike as a shoe brand, they might see this ad and favor the brand more because of its motivational mission.
While this ad strategy is obviously great for athletic brands, telling stories of people who achieved greatness, took risks, or beat the odds could also be a great content marketing tactic for political organizations or nonprofits that are trying to spread awareness of their own mission.
Say you're part of an organization trying to fund higher education needs for students. With permission from students or alumni who've benefited from your work, you could share their stories or testimonials to show others that higher-education is possible.
This type of commercial could motivate young people to work hard and aim for success, while it also shows potential donors what the organization has already helped people achieve.
3 Outstanding Commercial Nominees of 2018
"The Talk" (Proctor & Gamble) - Winner
This hard-hitting theatrical ad and 2018 Emmy winner tells the story of African-American mothers talking to their children about race throughout different decades. At the beginning of the ad, a mother who's brushing her daughter's hair ominously tells her, "It's not a compliment."
As many viewers might wonder what she's referring to, you see scenes of other black mothers talking to their children about race. At one point, one mother talks to her son about a racial slur. At another, one mother tells her son, "There are some people who think you don't deserve the same privileges just because of what you look like. It's not fair. It's not."
At one point, one mother tells her daughter, "Remember, you can do anything they can. The difference is you've got to work twice as hard and be twice as smart."
From there, the ad gets darker. Viewers then begin to see scenes of mothers telling their children how they should behave when a police officer pulls them over so that they can be safe from possible police brutality.
Then the storyline becomes more motivational. Although the mothers tell their children that they will be judged differently because of their skin, they also tell them to "keep showing up," and to not let discriminatory words define them.
As the ad closes, it's revealed that the young girl who was getting her hair brushed was told she was, "Pretty, for a black girl." Her mother disagrees and says, "You are beautiful. Period."
After this, viewers see text that says "LET'S ALL TALK ABOUT 'THE TALK' -- SO WE CAN END THE NEED TO HAVE IT."
The "talk" they're referring to is the discussion about bias. At the end of the video, they include the hashtag #TalkAboutBias.
The ad was made to promote P&G's Black is Beautiful Initiative and how it is a "Proud Sponsor of Moms."
Like the Netflix commercial, it powerfully touches on difficult political and societal topics that many people who aren't from a diverse household might not think about.
As you watch this ad, you might be asking, "How does this commercial talk about P&G products?"
Well, it doesn't. Like Nike's Dream Crazy ad, P&G tells a story and uses its platform to spread awareness. But, how does this help boost a brand?
Although they didn't promote one product or brand specifically, P&G's ad launched significant discussions from social media and news outlets after the ad went viral. This resulted in many people wanting to learn more about them when they saw or heard about the ad.
P&G's Global Communications Director, Damon Jones, told AdAge, "We know that bias is not just an African American issue. It's an issue that takes on many shapes and forms, across gender, race, age, weight, sexual orientation, and more."
"Our goal with 'The Talk' is to help raise awareness about the impact of bias," he added. "We are also hopeful that we can make progress toward a less biased future by recognizing the power of people of all backgrounds and races showing up for one another."
This ad not only informed people from non-diverse communities about the conversations some families must have about race, but it also showed people of color that the company supports them.
Because of this message, someone might want to purchase products from one of P&G's many brands knowing that they're taking a stance on hard topics and care about their customers’ backgrounds.
"Alexa Loses Her Voice" (Amazon)
In this funny ad, the Alexa Voice Assistant gets a cold and loses her voice. Then, celebrities have to substitute for her. Even though it shows the product malfunctioning, it also does a great job of showing many of the Echo's popular voice-command skills. It also features Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos.
Nope, a small business can't afford to hire Gordon Ramsey or Cardi B for a commercial. But, they can take a note from Amazon and use video marketing to tell an interesting story about their product and its features.
If you're a video marketer for a smaller technology company, you might similarly consider making a video that shows an every-day person using your app or product to get something done. This strategy can help you highlight different features all in one piece of content while showing viewers how they can easily use a product.
"It's a Tide Ad" (Tide)
In 2017 and 2018, Tide released a number of commercials with storylines that had nothing to do with Tide, except for the actors’ noticeably clean clothes. When viewers were at the edge of their seats, someone in the ad would say, "It's just another Tide ad." Then, they'd see the Tide logo and text that said, "If it's clean, it's Tide."
This commercial campaign started with a long Superbowl ad and follow-up commercials during each break of the game. In the first ad, which took the Emmy nomination, Stranger Things' David Harbour shows up in several common ad scenes, including in the bathroom with a buff deodorant model, driving a sports car, and laughing on the couch with a fake family.
As he pops into each commercial, he explains that all of them have one thing in common: clean clothes that were washed by Tide detergent. In the end, he says, "So, does this make every Super Bowl commercial a Tide ad? I think it does."
This ad is pretty funny and memorable. Since Tide has one job of keeping clothes clean, they show off the brand's strength in multiple versatile scenarios.
Humor like this can also be a great way to make a simple product more memorable. If you go to the store to get detergent shortly after seeing this commercial, Tide might be the first thing to pop into your head because of the ridiculous ads.
Sometimes, it can be great to think outside the box and come up with an odd way to show off your product. And, if you can work in humor, people might identify with or remember your ad even more.
What These Nominations Can Teach Us
While many of last year's commercials were funny and memorable, this year's nominations were thought-provoking and motivational. While this year's ads are all great examples of how video marketers can succeed by incorporating their product into stories about every-day people, last year's nominees show that humor can make your brand more relatable.
If you loved these ads, but worry that you can't create an interesting video on a low budget, don't worry. Use the above examples to motivate you, while reading this guide for tips on how to film a cheap marketing video.
Want to learn more about all the different aspects of video marketing? Check out this ultimate list of stats and advice.
Originally published Sep 12, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated November 19 2019