Advertising: To Be (Bold) or Not to Be

The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are coming up this weekend, with many of their winners in certain award categories – such as animation, choreography and commercials – already being announced. While the Emmys as a whole might not mean a lot to some in the advertising industry, there is one category that does – Outstanding Commercial.

Topping off a successful campaign – both from a business standpoint and within the advertising industry – Nike earned the Emmy for Outstanding Commercial for their “Dream Crazy” commercial, starring Colin Kaepernick. It’s been over a year since the commercial first appeared, and it’s making headlines again thanks to the recent award win.

While Nike wasn’t the first brand to take a stance on a controversial or sensitive subject, they were one of the biggest brands to do it and the brand that got everyone talking about it. Because of that campaign, it posed the question – how will taking (or not taking) a bold stance affect your brand?

It’s a loaded question, and there are many things to consider when deciding whether or not to align your brand with a social or political issue. What kind of brand is it? Is it a local mom-and- pop brand in a small town or a globally-recognized brand? Who’s your target audience? Is it a small audience where you’re certain that 99 percent of them will agree with your stance, or is it a split audience where you might alienate half of your vital audience? Is your brand large enough to take a hit knowing you can put another campaign out within two weeks to make people forget about your first campaign? Or is there a chance your brand will instantly go under with one large and wrong decision?

Like we said, there’s a lot to consider. Let’s start with a true story.

A creative director who worked for a large ad agency was making a creative presentation to their client for a potential Super Bowl spot. The client killed a dozen or so ideas because they were ‘too insensitive’ to people’s feelings, and they didn’t want to be responsible for pushing people into ‘safe places.’ The creative director stood before his client, dumbfounded and frustrated, and point blank asked what they wanted to communicate to people about their product. He was told, “Nothing. Tell them nothing – just make some pretty pictures and stick a logo on the end of the spot.”

More or less, they were told to play it safe. For a client, sometimes it pays to play it safe – but on the alternative side, is it possible to inspire your audience to make an action towards your brand with just a logo? Maybe if you’re McDonalds and have some clever golden arches.

While Nike is one example, there are a lot of other brands who have done the same. Patagonia, Airbnb, Heineken and Ben & Jerry’s are a few other examples of brands who have also taken a stance and have experienced positive outcomes. So why are all of these brands doing it, and should your brand be doing it too? The stats say maybe you should.

Sprout Social recently did a study surrounding today’s divisive social and political climate, and how brands can navigate through it. The results found 66 percent of consumers want brands to take stands on important issues (and social media is the place for it). It also showed 78 percent of respondents who identified as liberal wanted brands to take a stand, while just 52 percent of respondents who identified as conservative felt indifferent to it.

So, if data is telling you to do it, you should do it, right? No. We all know data is just the base, and you can’t build an advertising campaign solely around stats. (And if you don’t, you can read more about data’s role in advertising). Think about those questions mentioned earlier. What kind of brand is it? Who’s the audience? What’s the market? Those are vital questions, and you have to incorporate that brand insight into your marketing decisions.

There is one thing all of the companies who align their brand with a stance have in common though, regardless of what political or social side they’re aligning with. Brands, and more specifically campaigns, that have a strong stance elicit an emotional response from consumers. And emotional marketing works. Today’s political climate is divisive, yes, but it’s also because there’s a lot of emotion backing it. When you really look at it, is it just the fact that the brand is taking a stance with a political or social issue you side with that encourages you to support the brand? Or is it more so the fact that the brand or campaign is connecting with you on a very personal, emotional level?

Given everything you have to think about with an advertising and marketing campaign – such as the brand and audience insight, whether you want to align your brand with a political or social stance, and how to make sure it has an emotional connection to your audience (not to mention numerous other things) – it’s easy to temporarily lose sight of your end goal, which should be to inspire your audience. So, when push comes to shove, make sure it’s bold. It’s the age old saying, but you have to go big or go home. You won’t always make everyone happy, and you’ll always have critics – so take risks, push the boundaries and get outside your comfort zone. It will be worth it.

Whatever you decide, do it wisely and do it boldly – and keep in mind some of the best campaigns involved an NFL-athlete-turned-actor in a shower for a body wash brand, and a group of guys sitting around drinking a beer and saying “whasssssupppp.” After all, humor is an emotion, too.

Sell the Dream. Sell the Boat.
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