On February 5th of this year, more than 100 million homes watched Dodge’s Super Bowl commercial, which used branding to detail the lives of farmers. A narration by broadcasting legend Paul Harvey accompanied pictures of hills and plowed fields, hard faces and soft expressions, coupled with camera angles showing the many facets of farm life. Many parties fell silent to watch and listen to each word as it came from the screen.
The commercial was personal and provocative, illustrating the qualities of the farmer and showing how one of a farmer’s tools used–a truck–can play such an important role in such an important job. Within 10 minutes of the commercial’s first airing, social media users separated into two camps: those who loved it and those who believed the commercial was manipulative and false.
The reaction of the second group was quick and decisive, with some viewers characterizing the commercial’s portrayal of farm life to be false. Based on those responses, it seems that brands are only allowed to be personal when it doesn’t include anything that’s actually personal, that brands are only allowed to tie use of their products to false situations, like pretending to clean counters that were never dirty. In a world of educated consumers who search for a personal, engaging message, it’s ludicrous for that same consumer to call a personal appeal manipulative and false.
Real Beauty, Real Products
Dove recently released a commercial that didn’t even feature their product; the ad explored how women see themselves, and challenged us to rethink self-criticism. The ad was for everyone, solving a problem by showing a solution and encouraging the viewer to rethink how they see themselves. Was it universally loved? Was it seen as the answer to interruption marketing and was everyone enthralled with its purpose? Of course not. Like the Dodge ad, some viewers thought it was manipulative and the brand was again put into the corner for another time out.
Answering the Problem Question
Believe it or not, a brand’s primary goal isn’t making money–it’s solving problems. Kleenex solves the problem of runny noses. Apple solves the problem of low-quality computers and tech mobility. Twitter brings people together who at any other time in history would never have connected. Facebook allows people to find long lost friends and family. Honda saw the American vehicle market in the 1970s and decided that Ford and Chevy weren’t filling the need for a better, more reliable car…so they fixed the problem. The list goes on and on. A brand makes money because it identifies the problems and solves those problems well. With their Super Bowl commercial, Dodge told the story of a target market and showed how a Dodge truck serves that target market. Dove emphasized beauty and encouraged their target market to rethink their self-image. Ads like these place the emphasis on the consumer, elevating the need over the message and using that need to tailor the message. So, why complain when brands attempt to tailor their messages to their target audiences?
We live in an age where the consumer holds all the power in their purchasing decisions. Through reviews, references and personal experience, a brand finds its target market or finds itself out of business. In order to reach the people where they are, there needs to be a personal message that reaches the core of the problem they are trying to solve. Dodge and Dove showed themselves ready to give their customers something personal and, in the end, they accomplished it.
Bottom line: Consumers should stop complaining. Brands are created to be personal because the problems they are trying to solve are personal. It’s time that we gave them some license to mature.