If answering that question were easy, ad companies would be richer than the oil industry. But the reality is that many times it is a question of marrying your product with the right kind of branding, then figuring out how to present that branding in such a way that people fall in love at first sight and just have to have it.
Sometimes it’s a matter of capturing the cultural zeitgeist in just the right campaign. Look at Apple’s 2009 ads featuring Justin Long as Mac and John Hodgman as a PC. Apple had a product that worked exceptionally well, but had a price tag that made it hard for consumers to bite the bullet and shell out the extra cash.
Then along came the ads, which had Hodgman hamming it up at his nerdy best (the very epitome of uncool) and Justin Long as the handsome young hipster. Even though they were talking about computers, he made it sound cool. And without ever really hyping their product. He just made people WANT to buy them because it would (by corollary) make them cool as well. That was a campaign so popular that in 2010 Adweek declared “Get A Mac” to be the best ad campaign of the 2000s.
What made it work five years ago, though, may not be as successful today. At the time, being thought of as a hipster was still something of a mark of cool, whereas now it has taken on a more pejorative connotation. Hey, when the Simpson’s dedicates an entire episode to riffing off all of the bizarre quirks of hipster culture, you know your cultural relevance timer has begun ticking away.
So the key becomes finding what about your branding and product have appeal and packaging that appeal in such a way that it latches on to whatever meme or idea has currently bubbled to the top of our ever-mutating pop culture.
The recent Superbowl commercials certainly gave some ideas of what to/what not to do. Most people’s favorite commercial (according to Twitter) was the Budweiser Lost Puppy. It married the Budweiser Clydesdales with a cute little puppy and even had the very clever hashtag #bestbuds. Some people assert that the ad was schmaltzy (overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative) and that schmaltz sells. But that case can not be proved conclusively because of our second example.
The extraordinarily depressing Nationwide Insurance Superbowl Ad. Where the Budweiser ad engendered feelings of tenderness and that “awwwww” moment, the Nationwide ad just bummed people out. It created a torrent of negative responses against the company and did immeasurably more harm than good. It’s intent was clear, “Make sure your kids are safe,” but the execution was so poorly conceived that halfway through I wondered if I was watching a sneaky back-door trailer for the new season of The Walking Dead.
What’s your thought? Is there a single key ingredient to what makes you love a commercial or promotion?