From the humorous to the political, confronting, nostalgic, and emotional—here are the ads that got the message across and more, and then those that really missed the beat. How to sell soda in the 21st century? Once upon a time, you might have painted an idyllic summer beach scene; eskies filled with fizzy liquid the obvious companion to the happiest of moments. In advertising’s earliest evolution it was a trick of the heart that told us very little about the drink and sold us a dream instead. Now though, we have the internet and a wealth of information at our fingertips. We know soda and cigarettes are bad for us, and we don’t want to have our dreams dictated by brands built around uniform stereotypes—or by shady corporations, data-mining social media giants, or out of touch governments. The Information Age is one of enlightenment—and it should be for brands too. It’s a time when nimble, forward-thinking businesses are able to tap into the pulse of their audience in more connected, credible ways. Brands can be a part of their audience’s voice and their day-to-day and meet them where they are, as opposed to hovering above, crooning for attention in a crowded mass market. Ironically, Coke still sells the dream of the perfect summer—its Australian Facebook page cover photo shows three bronzed surfers clutching glass bottles of sugar-free soda. Though in 2018, Coke isn’t really dream-designing, they’re realising their place in neo-nostalgia—the millennial-led sentiment from the generation that coined things like #flashbackfriday and #throwbackthursday, that has access to Spotify but buys vinyl, and will be distracted by a BuzzFeed quiz proclaiming to reveal which 90s rockstar they are most similar to. Soda’s place in the 21st century isn’t among the coconut oils, the paleo, plant-based or organic diets we are sold, it’s in the emotive state of the drink. Maybe we drink it for its inimitable sugary taste that’s now so frowned upon but used to be so du jour. Maybe we buy it for its connection to simpler, sunnier times. How will you connect with the heartbeat of your audience? Here are five recent campaigns that have got the message right.
In a time fraught with disrupt, upset, and mass disappointment and disbelief in the powers that be—lots of brands are trying to tap into youth culture around social justice. In the soda category, no-one got it quite as wrong as Pepsi in 2017, who had a glamorous Kardashian blindly join a march and hand over a Pepsi can to riot police to save the day and restore general peace. The appropriation of real issues to sell soft drink was widely criticised and the ad lasted 24-hours before being pulled. Happily, though, other brands have got it right—joining and supporting the movement in real time in the real world, as opposed to overriding it or using it to sell another message. Adidas’ Don’t Be Quiet Please tennis advert with Pharrell Williams is a part of a New York City-wide campaign inspiring individuals to make game-changing pledges. Pharrell delivers a manifesto inviting New Yorkers to join him in a citywide activation, one which he had already embarked on. The campaign included a donation to the NYC Parks Department for tennis court restoration, and a partnership with non-profit organization HORIZONS, to establish a tennis scholarship for children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R68krWhXieM
Nike may be the 21st century’s greatest brand communicator to date—at least few will disagree that recent efforts put them forward for the trophy. One of their recent campaigns, Time is Precious taps into Internet culture and our lives spent in front of the screen, not outdoors, and not exercising. Using just text, the campaign asks—after cat videos, scrolling, emojis, do we have time to go running today? The W+K Portland no-budget spot is a big departure from Nike’s athlete-heavy TVCs, but the message is powerful. It speaks to an audience who already have screen-guilt, and are looking for reasons to put down their smartphones and reconnect with the outdoors. All this, despite the fact that the ad itself is a part of our accumulating, ceaseless screen time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U-TlwKWsA0
Heineken’s powerful Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld campaign is as much a beer ad as it is an effort to evaporate disparate thinking and communities rife with hate culture using beer. It’s clever because it’s something so many of us do: put aside our heavy-handed opinions to enjoy a meal or a drink with another human. It’s extra clever because it goes one step further and likens our universal ability to be compassionate and empathetic to moments when we drink beer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etIqln7vT4w
Laughing at what was before
Comedian slash Instagram-sensation Celeste Barbar is a sensation because she eschews the idea of being internet-famous. Her hilarious Instagram feed is full of parody—images of herself untouched and real, trying and failing to accurately recreate a Justin Beiber selfie or Gwyneth Paltrow in a mudbath from the pages of Goop. This year, Holden recruited Celeste to do a sexy-car ad spoof. It’s a part of the car company’s effort to market more to women—but works as it appeals to an audience who don’t emotionally value the status of a Mercedes-Benz badge. https://vimeo.com/259070188
What does building brand trust mean in the age of fake news and Cambridge Analytica-type scandals? The word ‘authentic’ has been thrown around a great deal over the past few years, to the point where it’s almost lost any real meaning. Each of the adverts featured above harbour a true sense of authenticity, via action in the real world, via understanding hurdles their audience would like to overcome, or, by simply underscoring their product’s place in the real world right now—even how it might help to make us better humans in one way or another. How does your brand fit into the era of massive distrust, and how does your business make the world a better place? The New York Times’ first-ever ad to run during the Academy Awards ceremony in February 2017 spelled out a series of ‘truths’ with the aim of reinforcing the idea that the pre-eminent place for independent, deeply reported journalism is The Times. Its simple black and white design is intended—in a world where fake news is promoted as the truth amongst swathes of differing opinions and misinformation, the pages of the times are safe harbour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY0Fdz350GE Stay in touch, and learn about our upcoming events. Subscribe here.