February 07, 2017

Every year, brands get involved in politics during the Super Bowl. From 1984 to today, many of our most memorable ads have made a political statement. But predictably, those same ads generate a backlash. Stick to sports! Give me an escape, not a civics lesson! (Puppymonkeybaby, anyone?)

 

Our own dial testing of Super Bowl ads this year with Dialsmith showed that audiences are craving a universal and positive message. Hyundai’s “A Better Super Bowl” ad pulled at the heartstrings, and was easily the best testing ad in our analysis. On the other hand, 84 Lumber’s ad was seen as divisive, scoring well among younger audiences but poorly among older Americans.

 

As this year proved again, though, “stick to sports” isn’t advice all brands want to take. So let’s say you’re a brand trying to make a political statement today. How do you create an ad that’s seen as relevant and impactful?

 

After our analysis of this year’s ads, we’ve developed a five step approach to help you get a little closer to that perfect political spot at Super Bowl LII.

 

Step one: know your audience. The first step in any successful message is understanding who you’re talking to and what they care about. Airbnb almost didn’t make a Super Bowl ad this year, deciding less than a week before to buy airtime. The company used that last-minute ad to make a big statement about diversity, a core value of their target consumer: millennials and travelers.

 

Step two: stand for something. In today’s political and cultural climate, the only sin is not taking a side. Brands that identify an issue and take a clear, consistent stand won’t please everyone. But there’s a lot of value in doing exactly what 84 Lumber did. Because they directly addressed immigration with a strong statement, they’re easily winning the post Super Bowl buzz game, and everyone knows where they stand.

 

Step three: don’t back down. It isn’t enough to simply take a stand though. You also have to back it up. While 84 Lumber stood by its ad, Anheuser-Busch ran away from its Budweiser offering, insisting that the ad was made months ago and wasn’t a political statement. So the brand loses the benefit of engaging in the conversation, while still getting the #boycottbudweiser treatment from those who interpreted it as a political statement anyway.

 

Step four: make it real. Many brands want to stand for something, but it’s important to think about the potential pitfalls of getting your voice out there. If your actions and brand don’t back up the statement, you just may find that the message gets lost in the backlash. Audi may love women’s empowerment, but with females making up just 12% of their leadership team, and none of its board of directors, they’ve left themselves open to quite a bit of criticism today.

 

Step five: Hit the sweet spot. Every year, there are a couple ads that introduce companies we’ve never heard of into the national conversation. This year, 84 Lumber made the biggest impact, but It’s A 10 wasn’t far behind. Hitting the sweet spot of funny, relevant, and attention-grabbing, this hair care company managed to do all that while reminding people of the company’s core product offering and brand promise.

 

In the Trump presidency, brands must be more intentional than ever about what they say, and how they say it. When any statement can alienate a large chunk of your audience, it’s essential to understand not only what you want to say, but how your audience might actually hear it. And when you get one chance to reach billions of eyes and ears in the Super Bowl, you want to make the most of it. Following these five steps won’t guarantee a perfect 10, but when you make a thoughtful decision about who you are, and what you stand for, you can make a real impact.

 

 

 

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March 01, 2017

 

If addressing Congress was an Olympic sport, President Trump might have scored a 9.8. Last night was President Trump’s first address to the nation since the inauguration – and like some athletes with bad boy personas we wondered which version of Donald Trump was going to show up.Well, he delivered.

If the inaugural address was dark, this was sunny.

We tested the speech last night, and across party lines, Americans agreed that this was the best speech the President has given – and as the Dow breaks 21,000 today the markets agree. As if we were watching the long program in figure skating, we held our breath as we watched him stick the landing, hit all the key technical elements, and stay on program. 

After a rocky month, it was refreshing to see.

So what can we learn from this as communicators?  It’s not always easy to deliver a message after a rough time. After a controversy. Or an unpopular announcement. After our reputations take a hit. And while we might disagree on policy and our opinion of the President, we can all agree that there are lessons for us as communicators.

  1. The importance of a theme. More than a string of policies.  More than a bunch of stories.  More than a list of achievements.  Donald Trump had a theme: Make America Great Again.  Put America First.  Let’s work together.  Believe in America and Americans.  This is a really important lesson for all of us. It’s not enough to just list facts, or policies, or statistics if you want to change the hearts and minds of your target audience - .  You need to tell a story that strikes an emotional chord.  One that can be repeated – one that will give you the benefit of the doubt - so that those who hear it can tell it for you. 
  1. The importance of symbols. President Trump gets the power of symbols and optics.  Don’t just get tough on immigration, build a great big wall.  And last night, he wanted to demonstrate that he was reaching across the aisle – and with more than just words – he proudly wore a blue tie.  And so did Vice President Pence and Speaker Ryan.   Symbols can tell your story for you.
  1. The importance of optimism. Fear doesn’t motivate. Optimism does. The truth is that the brain cannot process either gratitude or optimism at the same time as fear.  Last night was a night filled with optimism.  He painted a picture of success.  He told us we can come together. He told us it’s not too much to ask to find cures. To lift our citizens from welfare.  To be safe from fear.  To create jobs. To prosper and grow. And I think when we are trying to turn a corner after a storm it is critical that we paint a positive picture for our target audiences.
  1. The importance of storytelling. Stories allow us to say things that we alone can’t say. Last night we saw the story of a fallen Navy seal to show support for the military.  He told a story about a woman who achieved greatness through education illustrating his commitment to education.  And, he told a story about a young woman who was treated for a rare disease by her father’s discovery to underscore the importance of rolling back regulations to unleash more medical discoveries.  All of these will be so much more memorable than if he just said we need to support the military, education and regulatory reform. They give us a face and a reason to support these things.
  1. The importance of the sound bite. President Trump knows the art of the sound bite.  Make America Great Again. America First. Build a wall. Buy American and Hire American. And last night – he introduced a few more.  Education is the civil rights issue of our time.  Radical Islamic Terrorism.  We want peace, wherever peace can be found.  Common ground.  Believe in yourselves.  Believe in your future. Believe in America. Soundbites matter. It’s an art. And when you get them right, they will be repeated. Over and over and over again.

The President who delivered last night’s speech has the lowest approval ratings for any incoming President. He has work to do to earn back trust. We know that trust in institutions is at an all-time low as well. By guiding them to build a repeatable narrative so that those who hear it can and want to tell it for you is a goal we can all achieve.

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