Advertising used to be about smoke and mirrors. The smoke was sometimes literal ("Sophisticated women smoke Virginia Slims!") and the mirrors reflected who we were and/or wanted to be ("True Americans buy Ford").
But today, “BEST IN THE WEST” billboards are no longer effective because consumers’ expectations have changed. Every purchase is mere clicks away; there are increasingly few strangleholds on distribution, proprietary sales territories, patented common goods, price or quality differentials.
Today’s most evocative advertising targets something else: purpose. Society now expects brands to do more than make money; we expect them to make money and have a higher calling… which is – dare we say it? A soul.
Smart brands, both for- and nonprofit, are figuring this out at breakneck pace. To celebrate these trailblazers, TeamWorks Media asked friends, clients and the public to nominate brand spots they felt reached for something beyond the almighty dollar. A collection of 16 wound up in our “March Adness” competition.
Since collections invite comparisons, we identified the common characteristics of these ads. What makes them attention-getting, thought-provoking and emotionally engaging? And what features of these 16 can you repurpose for your marketing efforts?
What the Sweet 16 Have in Common
The Situations Are Universal
…Even when the environments are specific. You may not be a four-year-old in Africa (Water is Life’s “4-Year-Old’s Bucket List”), but you have faced challenging obstacles. You probably don’t live on the streets, but everyone struggles with prejudice and stereotypes (Rethink Homelessness’ “Human”).
Across the board, the ads tap into the primal: love of family, fear of failure, the desire for human dignity.
Stories Are at the Heart
The ads make us care – not about the product, corporation or nonprofit, but about the people in the situations they portray.
The spots have unexpected outcomes with great pay-offs. The World’s Toughest Job can’t possibly be an existing position, can it? Why is some lady trying to order a pizza from 911? What do X-Ray machines have to do with equality?
The Viewer is Respected
These ads take into account how viewers digest information now. They’re available where and when we want to consume them (digitally, anytime) and generally match our attention span (increasingly short).
Spots Aren’t Overtly Promotional
The ads feel authentic because the sponsor isn’t directly hocking anything. A “sale” (be it product, service, or donation) is a by-product of the story, not a direct call to action.
(Final) Four Takeaways
Use these to improve and magnify your content efforts!
1) Marketing Should Provide Immediate Value
By design, advertising asks something of its target straightaway – attention. That’s a big ask in our busy, noisy, and demanding world.
Consequently, that ask will be perceived negatively if it doesn’t provide instant value. In the case of the spots in March Adness, the immediate value is evocative and emotionally charged entertainment. Value can also be information, advice, a discount code, etc. What it can’t be, however, is “Buy X” self-serving.
For example, nonprofits should never lead with “we need money” – rather with “Let me tell you a story about...” If your story is communicated well, people will understand the core problem and attempt to solve it through their donations.
2) Advertising Should be About More Than Immediate Sales
This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but buying is as much about heart as head.
Have a purpose beyond making money or fundraising… “Sales” (be they in tennis shoes, mechanic man-hours or silent auction donations) should be the effect of your marketing, not its central narrative.
3) Consider Virality
No one shares a “Buy X” spot – but they do share spots sponsored by “X” if they have a transcendent narrative. Purposeful storytelling buys you more time and consideration.
Virality (or pass-along rate in the old parlance) helps small firms reach much larger audiences. Often seen as the golden goose for many cash-strapped mom-and-pops and nonprofits, captivating storytelling is the place to start.
4) Length Matters… Most of the Time
The longer the spot, the more viewers drop off or refuse to watch it in the first place. It’s a fact. The below chart from Wistia is a good rule of thumb.
Infuse Your Marketing Strategy With Purpose
These March Adness spots are prime examples of how to infuse your marketing strategy with purpose. Certain marquee brands have always used heart-tugging storytelling (see: Folger’s and Hallmark) and it’s time companies – small and large, for- and nonprofit – took note.
And March Adness is now down to the Elite 8! Vote here for your favorite purpose-driven ads and see if they make it to the championship!