Don’t Squeeze the Charmin! And Other Thoughts on Advertising.
Jason and Jeff share some of their all time favorite ad campaigns and what made them tick — both B2B and beyond.
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Speaker 1 (00:08):
You’re listening to Rattle and Pedal, divergent thoughts on marketing and growing professional services firms. Your hosts are Jason Mlicki and Jeff McKay.
Jason Mlicki (00:19):
So Jeff, I guess today we were going to talk about your favorite ad campaigns, which I think is ironic, because in two years doing this podcast with you, I think all I’ve ever heard you say is what a waste of money advertising is.
Jeff McKay (00:33):
Yeah, marketing is a waste of money, and time, and effort.
Jason Mlicki (00:37):
So now you want to talk about your favorite ad campaigns, what an oxymoron. So, maybe before we do that, how do we define favorite? What do we even mean by that? So we say we’re going to talk about our favorite ad campaigns, what constitutes something that is your favorite, and why should it be on a list?
Jeff McKay (00:50):
That’s a great question. On the rare occasion that I watch television with my kids, because they’re always staring at their iPhones, and a commercial comes on the television, I can’t help it but jumping into my marketing professor mode with my kids to say, “Hey, what do you think the purpose of that ad was? What market were they going after? Why do you think they positioned the language that way?” And the kids, they actually kind of like it, they jump in and have a lot of fun with it.
I especially like it when I’m watching, with the boys, a football game or something and a beer commercial comes on with swimsuit clad ladies. Of course that gets their attention, and I was like, “Come on guys, we’re jumping in the car, we’re running to the grocery store, we’re going to buy some of that beer. And those girls are going to come watch the football game.” And they look at me like, “What are you talking about?” Well, no, “The ads says if we buy that beer, we’ll be cool and we’ll have those girls,” And I do that just to point out how silly some of these ads are.
Jason Mlicki (01:58):
The funny thing about your comment in general is that you actually watch television with ads in your house, you’re like a minority now, I think, right? I mean, there’s a lot of research out there about the effects of advertising on young minds, and how it actually can sort of damage longterm health, and increases materialism. So we pretty much shut down advertising in all its forms when our kids were little. So I’m actually even shocked when my kids have seen an ad and they explain it to me. Because it’s like, there’s so little, we’ve shut down cable. There’s no network TV, we pretty much just stream a handful of services and they’re ad free.
Jeff McKay (02:35):
Except for YouTube.
Jason Mlicki (02:36):
But we don’t really watch YouTube though, so we don’t use YouTube that much. It’s interesting to me that you actually are consuming media with ads in it, and having that conversation. Now we have similar games we play. At our house the game is, whenever there is an ad, is to turn it off and mimic what they’re saying, and make fun of the ad. And my kids really enjoy that. But anyway, how do define great? I do think as much as we like to criticize advertising and all the woes it’s brought on society on some levels, certainly digitally as well. There is a place for it, and there is a value for it when it’s done correctly, and it’s done well.
Jeff McKay (03:13):
And it’s done with good intentions.
Jason Mlicki (03:14):
Ooh, I thought of one that completely missed my list, that just made the top of my list. My favorite ad campaign of all time, hands down. And I can’t believe I didn’t think of that until right now. So, anyway-
Jeff McKay (03:24):
Well, we’ll save that one to the end.
Jason Mlicki (03:26):
Yeah. So anyway, what constitutes great? How are we going to fram that?
Jeff McKay (03:30):
All right, so here’s how I think we should frame it. One, I’m thinking across a couple of categories, and I’ll introduce the categories as we go. Second, we need to share from a strategic perspective, not just a pure entertainment perspective, because I think so many commercials today are just infotainment, and they’re here today, gone tomorrow, particularly around Superbowl time. And occasionally you’ll get some kind of breakout social media sensation.
But I want to dissect them from a strategic perspective, and talk about what they are actually trying to achieve, or what they demonstrate, where firms could really learn a lot from them. I think that’ll be something different other than just a plain old list of opinions. I get enough of that from you. We could actually substantiate it. All right, so you ready?
Jason Mlicki (04:32):
Sure, yeah. Let’s go.
Jeff McKay (04:34):
All right. First category, because we are a marketing and growth podcast, is the most creative. And I know this one will set the tone for a lot of disagreement. And there are hundreds of creative ads, I know that. But for me, one of the most creative ads ever in my mind, is the Absolut bottle campaign. It’s where they took the shape of the bottle and rendered it in a number of different visual forms. I just absolutely love that, it never got tired. It was incredibly creative. The tie in from the shape of the bottle, to the point of purchase was phenomenal. And it really set the market afire, around super premium vodka, which is a mixer that people consume with Kool-Aid or juice, just to get drunk. But they moved the whole product up a category, and they owned it.
And this one really sticks out in my mind from a creative standpoint, but from an actual ROI standpoint, when they started that, Absolut had a minuscule share of the vodka market, less than 3%. And by the time that ad campaign was done, and it was an integrated campaign across multiple channels, they owned close to half of the vodka market. And it was just incredible creative, I think. And so utterly simple, but it just stood out in magazines, on the side of buses, and it just was a phenomenal ad.
Jason Mlicki (06:18):
Yeah, no, that’s a great one. I think what’s interesting about that one is that they leveraged the shape of the bottle. And so you can picture that, you can picture the bottle in your mind, and you can picture the product in your mind, you remember the product that much. It’s sort of like the way Coca-Cola used their iconic shape of their bottle for years in their advertising. You can still picture that bottle, even though that bottle is pretty much not in existence anymore in the US, unless you buy Mexican Coke in a glass bottle. And it’s interesting, there was a bunch of research done back in, I can’t remember, in the nineties, I think it was, during the big soda wars between Coke and Pepsi, and how Pepsi would win the taste test. That was their big ad campaign at the time that wasn’t very effective.
And the reason it wasn’t effective was, yeah, they would win this blind taste test where you’d take a sip of Coke or Pepsi, and which one did you like better? And more people would choose Pepsi than Coke. But then if you actually blind tested someone who drank a whole glass of it, they’d always choose Coke. Or not always, more people would choose Coke. So anyway, they ran that taste test campaign, that really wasn’t very effective, because they also misunderstood the value of the bottle, and that connection of the bottle, and the nostalgia, and the Santa Claus’s, and all those things that Coke had wrapped around that brand for 70 years, they could not overcome with a simple blinded taste test.
All those brand aesthetics actually influence how you perceive flavor. So you hit the nail on the head with a really great one, I guess. I’m kind of reinforcing it with not really a campaign, but Coca-Cola’s 90 year mission, to make Coca-Cola in your brain, a happy place. A nostalgic happy place that you always associate with good times, hanging out with your dad on the patio, having an ice cold Coke after a hard day’s work. Whatever it is, it’s always there.
When you said creative, I paired that with funniest, and I don’t have any data to substantiate whether or not this ad campaign was successful. But to me, it’s just one of my all time favorite ads, and it was an ad done by CareerBuilder. And the ad takes you through this boardroom, and you pan through this boardroom with the senior executive sitting at his big oak table, and back behind him there’s this mounted head of a moose. And it’s like, legendary power. And then the ad cuts through the wall, basically pans through the wall to the other side, where there’s this guy crunched in this tiny little space, working at a computer with not enough room. And literally his head is wedged on the backside of the moose. And then it says, “Time to get a new job, go to Careerbuilder.com.”
And I have no idea if that had any ROI to it, I’ve never done the research on it, but I always just thought in terms of driving a really emotional message, do you need to start a career search, in a way that you’re going to remember and get a laugh out of. Man, they hit the nail on the head with that campaign. That’s one of my favorite ads of all time, just in terms of just making me laugh.
Jeff McKay (09:11):
I can just visually see that. And then they switched to monkeys, right? Was it CareerBuilder that had the monkeys?
Jason Mlicki (09:16):
Yeah, I have no idea. Which tells you the ad probably wasn’t successful, that it probably didn’t do the job. And even trying to think of that ad, I couldn’t associate the ad with the brand, which is the other challenge, and what’s so great about your Absolut example. You instantly associate all of those images, and all those things with the company that sold it, which is one of the biggest hurdles and challenges in advertising in general, right?
Jeff McKay (09:36):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Best product launch.
Jason Mlicki (09:39):
Jeff McKay (09:39):
I think I know what yours is going to be, so I’m going a different direction. For me, Miller Lite created the light beer category when they launched Lite, L-I-T-E. And it was interesting to me that they created this category that was counterintuitive. Because you think a low calorie beer would be for dieters, which means it’s a female beer, because they’re concerned about calories, where big construction workers wouldn’t be concerned about those.
But the way they went about it, they took athletes and celebrities, and had the tagline, Tastes Great, Less Filling. And it was that juxtaposition of, kind of like America is now, on one side were the people that believed it was less filling, i.e. less calories, and on the other side tastes great, bringing together what people were looking for in a beer. And they just got the best known celebrities at the time, and you just couldn’t wait to see the next commercial. These athletes battling out over Tastes Great, Less Filling. But I loved it, I loved it. Like I said, they launched a whole brand new category that’s still going strong today. So, Miller Lite, best product launch.
Jason Mlicki (11:10):
Yeah. I had totally forgotten about that, and forgot about the tagline too, it’s so blocked out of my memory. I think it’s interesting for our listeners that Jeff keeps picking alcohol ads. I don’t know what that says about him, but I’ve picked things a little more constructive, I guess, but what can I say? I tried to stay in category too, shocking, but you keep leading us into categories that make that difficult. But to me, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it, but the most notable product launch ad ever produced was Apple’s 1984 ad that launched the Macintosh. It only ran once ever, on the Super Bowl and it never ran again. There was not a campaign around it, it was a single ad, and it was the big brother ad, with the woman running down the whole army of drones, and throws the big hammer at the screen, and blows up your concept of what a personal computer was.
And I can’t speak to sales of Macintosh off that. Macintosh was not a product success at the first launch of it, because the product was underpowered. In the Jobs’s biography, he speaks to that. But in terms of launching a new way of thinking about the personal computer, it absolutely changed the landscape forever of personal computers. And then also, if you think about the whole notion of David and Goliath, and all of those different… Apple as the challenger of the establishment, it basically put the brand on the map for all time, as that challenger of the establishment. And even to this day, it’s sort of an anti-mainstream company, at least in terms of how people perceive the brand, even though it’s one of the biggest companies on the planet, and most profitable companies ever. It’s kind of hard to think of a more successful product launch than one to me, it’s a tough one to top.
Jeff McKay (12:52):
You know, I would throw in an honorable mention here. When Volkswagen came out with the Beetle, the Think Small.
Jason Mlicki (13:01):
The new Beetle or the old Beetle?
Jeff McKay (13:02):
Well, the new Beetle deal built on the success of the old Beetle, the Think Small was a phenomenal campaign. And what all three of those ads have in common, that I think is the most important takeaway, is that if you’re going to launch a new product, you’ve got to go into a new territory. That territory can be really counter intuitive. When the markets all drive into big, heavy beers or IBM, and corporate types of mainframes. Or the Detroit US car market, big fins, and chrome, and all that. And then just going the opposite direction, and going big in that direction, to me is the lesson that comes out of these ads. And that takes some boldness in order to do that.
Jason Mlicki (13:58):
No, I agree. I don’t want to get too far down this path, but I always said through the years, that when we did advertising, which we don’t really do it anymore. But when we did, I always said you can’t make a crappy product great through advertising. If you’ve got a great product, then you can do some amazing things with advertising. And I think that you’ve given some examples of that. But it’s hard to take something that’s just not any good, and make it really, really phenomenal.
Jeff McKay (14:25):
All right, next category: demonstrating a deep understanding of your core market. This is going to be an obscure one that most people won’t know, we’ll put a link along with all of these in the show notes. It was a commercial called Shadow Running, by Nike. And it was pretty much a silent video, there was no print overlays or anything. It was just a woman running through the city. And if you watch her, initially you’re like, yeah, it’s a running ad or something. And then it kind of sucks you in, and if you’re a runner, you see immediately what this woman is doing. And she’s running in the shadows of the buildings, of buses, or airplanes flying over, to stay out of the sun. And it’s interesting because I used to be a big runner, I would do that exact same thing, because I knew if I ran in the shade, that I could increase my speed and distance 10 or 20%, because I’d stay cool, and it made the run so much more enjoyable.
And I don’t think anybody would get that unless, they ever had done that type of running. And to me, it just showed a deep understanding of their target market. And when the ad came out, Nike was still primarily a running shoe, not a full breadth athletic shoe. But it was a phenomenal ad, both in its demonstrated understanding of the market, but the subtleness in which it did it as well. And most people that would see that would say, “No big deal,” but the people that buy running shoes would think, “That’s a company that understands me.” And that’s what’s so important about this ad, and what you could take away from it is, we should strive for that deep understanding and connection, that everybody who is part of that group understands, but nobody else may. And I just think that Nike ad did a phenomenal job of that.
Jason Mlicki (16:38):
Speaker 1 (16:39):
You’re listening to Rattle and Pedal, divergent thoughts on growing your professional services firm. Your hosts are Jason Mlicki, principle of Rattleback, the marketing agency for professional services firms. And Jeff McKay, former CMO and founder of strategy consultancy, Prudent Pedal. If you find this podcast helpful, please help us by telling a friend, and rating us on iTunes. Thank you, now back to Jason and Jeff.
Jeff McKay (17:06):
Best demonstration of a value proposition.
Jason Mlicki (17:10):
For me, and this is probably closer to home for most of our listeners, one of the campaigns I’ve always been really fond of was Accenture’s High Performance Delivered campaign, when they tied themselves to Tiger Woods, before he imploded and became a PR disaster. But there was that moment in time, where he was the quintessential embodiment of high performance. He was the greatest breakthrough athlete in the world, in a sport that he dominated, and he was the embodiment of high performance. And so when they said, “Hey, we’re going to be all about high performance, and that’s the value proposition we’re going to take to market,” to me, it was such a really clear connection.
And it was one of the few times I can say, where you can think of most professional services firms, there’s very few times when you can visually connect something to a firm, or a brand very well. Because they’re so mushy, and complex, and complicated in how they go to market. And it was one of those rare moments where a firm was able to really change that, and make themselves about something bigger and loftier than any product, or any solution, or any problem, or any market, or all of the inherent functional complexities of a big, broad professional services firm. So it was a really fabulous campaign for the time that it lasted, again before Woods kind of just imploded himself. And then, it probably became a bit of a liability for a while.
Jeff McKay (18:36):
That was a great description, I couldn’t agree more with you. And what I thought was really cool about that ad is, putting a logo on a shirt or a hat of a professional golfer, was probably expensive for most firms, but that really I think, was about building awareness. You see the hat on television, and maybe hospitality, where you take clients to a given tournament, and let them meet whatever player is supporting your firm. What Accenture did incredibly well, and blew others away, was how integrated it was, into their tagline, their vision for the firm, but also into their whole thought leadership agenda. Because all those ads were coupled with, “We understand what it means to be high performance,” and they broke it down based on research, by industry, by function and problem. And it was just phenomenal. To me, it’s one of the best integrated ad campaigns ever, whether B to B or B to C. [inaudible 00:19:50].
Jason Mlicki (19:53):
To your point, though, it’s really hard to think of any situation where any firm has been able to build a theme that’s all encompassing, the way they did that. That this is a central theme that we can literally hinge any practice in the firm on, because it’s simple enough, yet powerful enough to matter. And it did, it was an incredible… Airport advertising, Tiger Woods was on the homepage, there’s that iconic photo of him with the fist shake, where he’s just crushing it, and in the headline is High Performance Delivered. And it’s just, I can picture it in my head. And it’s very rare, I can say that any firm, I can picture anything in my head as it relates to them. So it’s a really phenomenal campaign. All right, what else you got? Time for one or two more categories at best.
Jeff McKay (20:39):
Oh gosh, I want to talk about these all day. Game changer. What ad was the biggest game changer? And I have a couple of ads that I think are phenomenal here for different reasons. The first one would be Red Bull, and their shifting… No, this is a game changer because they knew, they’re energy drinks. They moved from traditional 30 or 60 second spots, into experiences, and thought provoking, engaging, extreme examples, where they’re tying in their product to a very specific market, and engaging that market in extreme sports. And their commercials became spectacles, whether that was some extreme, jump over 50 buses, or the quintessential one was Felix Baumgartner, floated up on the balloon in the capsule, and then free fell from I don’t know, 25 miles or something, up in the air and then landed safely on earth.
That was to me, intriguing. And not only did people talk about it, it really reinforced that extreme dimension of the brand. I mean, it’s always bigger, better, faster, riskier. And I think that approach to marketing and ad campaigns, ushered in the company, or marketing as media companies, and the whole content marketing phenomenon, in its contemporary configuration. I mean, professional services has been doing that for forever, but that whole, “We are a media company, not a beverage company,” applies to Red Bull more than any other, I think.
Jason Mlicki (22:43):
Yeah. That’s an interesting one. When you said Red Bull, I was thinking of the Red Bull Gives You Wings, simple illustration ones that must have followed that. I guess I don’t really remember that campaign all that well, I don’t know exactly when that was. I do know that at that point in time, I’m guessing early 2000’s, it had this kind of intriguing status. It was not really all across the US, and there was a lot of interest in the product before it ever got for sale into certain markets. And a lot of that was built on that legend of it.
Well, I guess I have two campaigns, well, one campaign that I would dump into the game changer category, and then one campaign that I actually think is the most important ad campaign of all time. And I’ll share that as my close. But the game changer for me, I always felt the Nationwide campaign, the Life Comes At You Fast campaign, that they ran probably about 10 or 15 years ago now. And the reason it’s such a game changer was because that they were the first ones to change the conversation on insurance. So, insurance was just being sold, price, price, price, push, push, push, by every single entity in existence. And they were the first ones to try to find an angle that Allstate has picked up, and certainly Farmers has picked up as followers, that wasn’t about price. That was, let’s find another way to have a conversation about the need for insurance, and why you buy it and what it’s all about.
And the Life Comes At You Fast campaign was really, really phenomenal on that. And I had the privilege, I guess, of Nationwide’s a Columbus based company. So I remember I had a couple of conversations with the CFO that spawned that campaign, in the window of time in which he spawned it, and the outcomes from the work really were truly astounding. I mean, he took a brand that was a regional advertiser, that had virtually no awareness, and got it into a double digit unaided brand awareness, on the backs of a regional ad spend. It wasn’t even a national ad spend at the time. He was buying niche cable media, and all these weird niches of slices of consumers, because they didn’t have enough budget to go at it the way Progressive or State Farm, those companies that would outspend them 50 to one. And so, the lift he got on that campaign was truly amazing. But more importantly, it just changed the category forever. You would not have the Allstate mayhem ads, you would not have the Farmers ads, but for Nationwide being the first to change the conversation in the industry.
And then I’m going to close on what I think is the most important ad campaign of all time, hands down.
Jeff McKay (25:13):
I’m going to sit down, hang on a second. I have to sit down.
Jason Mlicki (25:15):
It’s the Dove campaign for real beauty. And as a parent, it is the most important ad you ever show your daughters. And the ad that I’m speaking of is the one where they basically take a woman off the street, and they make her over Hollywood style, the way that advertisers turn women into objects, and objectify them on a billboard. And they show you soup to nuts, how it’s done in about a minute and a half YouTube video that became a huge sensation. It’s the most important ad you ever show your daughters, every single parent has an obligation to show it to their daughters when they’re teenagers, so they truly understand the media around them, and what’s actually happening when they see women on screens, in movies, on television, in advertising, and really what’s done to make them look the way that they do.
It’s truly some of the most courageous advertising, as well, as you think about the beauty industry as one that has, let’s just be honest, objectified women for decades, and a brand saying we’re going to be the antithesis of that. And then piggybacking that with the Dove for Men products that they launched, where they’re extending the brand into other categories. And it’s just, I don’t know if it’s the most successful campaign, but it’s the most important campaign.
Jeff McKay (26:25):
Wow. I didn’t see that one coming there. I definitely thought that would be on your list, because you’ve talked about it before. And I love the emotion that you shared about your daughter, and its importance in her life and your relationship with her. I think that’s an excellent example. I actually had that listed under the most original ad, for several of the reasons you said. But to me it encapsulates everything that a good ad campaign should. You need to carve out new territory, you need to take risks, you need to understand your market. You have to execute it well, and I think they did all of that.
And interesting, you know you’ve hit it well when people start replicating it. It’s kind of like the Got Milk? Everybody put got, fill in the blank, because it was so pithy. But people started to push back, and we’ve come full circle. Dove said this has gotten so ridiculous that people are making fun of these ads, with the boys watching football and saying, “Let’s go get some beer so we can get bikini clad girls to watch the game with us.” It’s just become utterly silly, and it wasn’t positive for people. And when you have girls, and my daughter is like yours, being objectified and having body image problems because they see these airbrushed models. You’re absolutely right, Jason. I don’t want my daughter growing up trying to be something that’s not even real. That is excellent. And it would be nice if we saw more ads that were honest like that.
Jason Mlicki (28:10):
To their credit, it took a lot of courage to do what they did, and they held their ground, I think for the most part, ever since they did it. They said this is who we’re going to be as a company, we’re going to hold ourselves to some higher standard of care for this type of stuff.
Jeff McKay (28:22):
You know what was so cool about it? It resonated with their market. Women were like, “I’m beautiful, even though I’m not this model shape, and have blonde hair,” or whatever it is, it worked. It was authentic. When somebody like Gillette tried to do the exact same thing with the Man Up, I felt like that fell flat. It was too contrived. It’s an important message, but it wasn’t the time and place, or way of doing it, I don’t think. But what can work in one place doesn’t necessarily replicate. And I think that’s an excellent juxtaposition of that one approach used two different ways. Man, that’s a good place to end.
Jason Mlicki (29:06):
And we have to end, we’re long past our normal episode length. So, that was a good discussion. It was interesting. We covered a lot of ground that we would not normally cover, but certainly outside of our usual areas of focus. So hopefully listeners get a lot out of it, and I’ll talk to you next week.
Jeff McKay (29:21):
If they did, I have 30 more categories.
Jason Mlicki (29:25):
Speaker 1 (29:29):
Thank you for listening to Rattle and Pedal, divergent thoughts on marketing and growing professional services firms. Find content related to this episode rattleandpeddle.com. Rattle and Pedal is also available on iTunes and Stitcher.