Brands Need Passion – Here’s Why & How To Get It

By Mary C. Long Comment

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What really generated passion this Super Bowl, other than the intense fans of the teams on the field, were a couple of commercials on totally unrelated subjects. Though the feedback was diametrically opposed, each illustrates just how important it is to engage your audience – and how viral passion can be.

An iconic fast food company decides to accept gestures of familial love as currency through Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, a huge life insurance company exploits the vulnerability of a child to make a pitch, while denying any economic motivation. Their reason (or excuse, depending on one’s point of view)? “To start a conversation.” Ahem.

Well, in that regard, Nationwide certainly succeeded. And so did McDonald’s.

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As evidenced by sentiment analysis from NetBase, both earned the most social media mentions after their respective spots aired on February 1. But what’s really notable isn’t just the quantity of quips and quotes, but the quality. Each ad inspired passionate responses from the viewers, whether overwhelmingly positive (hugs for hamburgers? Yay!), or negative. (Evoking a dead kid’s lost future during a festive party is bound to backfire, regardless of intention.)

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press, since all press is good press. Or something. There is some truth to that marketing chestnut, but nobody really wants to instill apathy in their potential customer base – do they? Some do!

But aren’t there ways to instigate debate without alienating your audience? Of course there are. Just ask whoever dreamed up this ingenious McDonald’s ad campaign.

Contrast that with this morbid attempt at empathy, which comes off more like an outtake from The Walking Dead and I know which agency I’d be looking to work with! (This one, actually – I love TWD).


While offering totally different products with completely different approaches (and of course very different results), both ads illustrate how viral passion is. And what a great tool it can be for building awareness.

But awareness only goes so far, especially if that isn’t an issue for a big brand name. You need to stay unique in order to remain competitive, and the only way to do that is appeal directly to human emotions. Why? It works.

Here are some tips for hitting your audience right in the feels, without setting off the unintended reactions:

  • Catch people off guard. Touch upon a topic that is universally touchy, but in a way that is not offensive. Yes, this takes quite a bit of planning.
  • Make them smile. Everyone appreciates happiness, which comes in many forms; children and puppies are slam-dunk crowd-pleasers. Just ask Budweiser.
  • Shock them. Again, you want to introduce an element of surprise that is not alienating (unless you want it to be), so basically, something provocative!
  • Take them on an emotional roller coaster. As in “I laughed, I cried…”; the more emotions you can generate in a single two minute ride, the better – and you don’t even need to leave them on a safe note. Raw emotion. Bring it.
  • Make it real for them. Everyone likes things they can personally relate to, so focusing on elements like family tradition, friends, pets (dead pets?), etc. equates your product not just with finances, but a precious memory. (So maybe NOT dead pets.)

In any case, be sure to prepare your business for any possible backlash, whether the controversy was calculated beforehand or not, because your reaction to their reaction is crucial – and could be a valuable tool to extend the life of your marketing ploy . . . erm, campaign.

For instance, now that Nationwide has grabbed people’s attention, they need to keep that momentum going in a positive direction, with more ads that highlight what they have to offer besides ill-timed childhood death references.

And on the other side of that passion spectrum, all McDonald’s has to keep doing after their “food for love” campaign ends on Valentine’s Day is come up with more in-store/online combo marketing brainstorms that (hopefully) don’t get too creepy . . . like that Burger King “King” guy.

Remember, hitting the bullseye once doesn’t keep that wheel turning. These days, even a talking gecko just isn’t enough. People need to talk, too. About you.

Top image courtesy of McDonald’s on Facebook.

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