For Marketers, Sentimentality Trumps Slapstick

From Ram to Subaru

Aside from Ram, another memorable Super Bowl spot that aimed for the heart came from Anheuser-Busch, which has become famous for its touchy-feely image ads in the big game. This year’s entry, “Brotherhood,” from Anomaly, did not disappoint, exploring the touching bond between a Clydesdale foal and its trainer—and topping both USA Today’s Ad Meter and Ace Metrix Super Bowl rankings.

“Brotherhood” is certainly not emblematic of the kind of creative that has scored for the brewer in years past. Compare it to the A-B spot that ruled the Ad Meter back in 2000, one in which a dog called Rex dreams of chasing after a Budweiser truck, only to comically slam into the side of a parked van. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t actually show impact.) In subsequent years, the marketer would continue to rely on a recipe of slapstick, celebrity and sex: Cedric the Entertainer ruining a hot date with an exploding can of Bud Light, for example, or a guy lured into the bedroom by his girlfriend who proceeds to skid straight out the window on slippery satin sheets.

And Ram and A-B were far from the only advertisers taking the sentimental journey on advertising’s biggest day. Another atypically low-key yet impactful spot in the game was Jeep’s “Whole Again,” from GlobalHue. Narrated by earth mother of us all Oprah Winfrey and centered around the theme of veterans returning home to their families, the ad is one of the standout tear-jerkers in recent memory.

“Ten years ago, brands just sold stuff,” notes Scott Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog. “Now they’re like your friend.”

“You can’t express yourself in a false way now because you’ll be found out,” adds Guy Barnett, founder and creative director of the agency Brooklyn Brothers. “It’s transformed how brands behave.”

Some of the most impactful campaigns go beyond mere sentimentality to rally consumers around a mission. Take the Ram ad, whose imagery of those who work the land was no mere trope. As part of the campaign, the brand declared 2013 the “Year of the Farmer,” partnering with the national Future Farmers of America with the aim of “highlighting and underscoring the importance of farmers in America.”

Then there’s the struggle of getting physically fit—perhaps the universal mission. In Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign, which broke during last summer’s London Olympics, Nathan Sorrell, a 200-pound 12-year-old from London, Ohio, is seen lumbering down a rural road stretched out before a dusky sky. The voiceover intones, “Greatness is something no more unique to us than breathing. We’re all capable of it. All of us.” The ad featured everyday people from towns and cities across the globe called London, accomplishing their own, modest victories—a far cry from the worked-out bodies and pro athletes who have dominated much of the brand’s creative.

Again, it was a message that proved inspiring for consumers. One commented on YouTube that the ad motivated him to “get off my butt and lose 50 pounds.”

“These things are all about tapping into something larger,” says Andy Pearson, interactive associate creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. “It’s really just about looking for a cultural moment and capitalizing.”

“It’s no longer about making something up and pushing it out—it’s about finding something on the rise and aligning with it,” observes StrawberryFrog’s Goodson, who chronicles the rise of movement-based marketing in his 2012 book Uprising: How to Build a Brand—and Change the World—By Sparking Cultural Movements. Today, Goodson says, consumers are “truth junkies,” looking not just to figure out which products to buy but also for ways to use their purchasing power to make connections and become part of cultural movements. “They’re looking for real brands that have real impact on their daily lives,” he says.

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