“Without action, thought can never ripen into truth.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Several people over the past week or two pointed me to a new campaign for the TrueNorth snack brand from Frito-Lay, suggesting that its ad campaign might be a good example of Marketing with Meaning. The brand broke a television campaign during the Oscars last week, celebrating the efforts of individuals who are making a difference in the world. But does the new campaign bring meaning to customers’ lives? Does it support its good thoughts with actionable deeds? I’m not so sure…
Back in fall 2008, the TrueNorth brand began a search for inspiring stories from real people. The prize offered was $25,000 and a chance to have one’s story turned into a 60-second commercial directed by Helen Hunt during the Academy Awards. The winner was Lisa Nigro, founder of Inspiration Cafe, which feeds homeless people. Other ads featured the stories of a program that organizes kids to gather pennies to help others in need, and an environmental program in the Bronx.
These are worthy causes and moving stories, but I’m not sure this passes the test of meaningful marketing. There are two basic tenants that we believe marketing with meaning must fulfill: (1) it is marketing that people choose to engage with; and (2) it is marketing that itself improves people’s lives.
My biggest problem with the campaign is that it is simply a television ad with a small contest attached. The brand has chosen one of the largest interruptive advertising audiences, the Oscars. These awards are known as “The Super Bowl for Women” because they provide a large audience for advertisers, and they come at a cost of $1.4 million per ad for media alone. It is one of the few remaining “scale” tools for reaching a large audience, but simply airing an ad—no matter how meaningful the story—is not engaging. And it’s a stretch to say that a simple commercial—even one directed by Helen Hunt—can itself improve people’s lives.
It’s a strong positive to read that more than 1,000 stories were submitted, but I grow concerned that a special YouTube channel with behind-the-scenes Helen Hunt coverage has gotten less than 150 views.
It is not a completely meaningless campaign, and I believe TrueNorth does have potential with its brand and marketing. I love that the brand has a desire to “own the idea of finding your singular passion.” Although it might seem a stretch for a nut brand to think it can stand for this, the right kind of marketing can make a successful connection. But an ad campaign alone is not enough.
Overall, I believe that TrueNorth is halfway to the promised land. On the positive side, it has recognized the need to become a purpose-based brand. As described by Jim Stengel and Roy Spence, brands with a purpose have a guiding drive to improve consumers’ lives in a higher-level way. Pampers has a purpose of “helping moms develop healthy, happy babies” and the purpose of Southwest Airlines is to “democratize air travel.” TrueNorth has a purpose of helping people pursue their personal passions.
But it falls down on the marketing execution of its purpose. The marketing itself must fulfill the purpose, not just shout the purpose aloud. Pampers fulfills its purpose with cause-related marketing that donates vaccinations to poor children. Southwest fulfills its purpose with a desktop widget that notifies people when their favorite routes are on sale. To quote too many marketing gurus to credit here, TrueNorth needs “acts, not ads.”
TrueNorth needs more than an ad campaign—it needs to trigger actions that help people actually fulfill their dreams of improving the world. While expensive ads might inspire some, imagine what else the brand could do to actually help make a difference. It could shift the $1.4 million Oscars buy toward investing in small businesses and worthy causes, it could sponsor local events and activities, and it could help organizations attract donations from corporate sponsors. TrueNorth might hire community activists to run its marketing instead of traditional MBAs and advertising agencies.
If these ideas are not inspiring enough, TrueNorth can look to its sister brands at Frito-Lay. Doritos has embraced participatory marketing by hosting contests for young adults to create commercials or name its next flavor. And SunChips has gone as far as to build a new solar power plant to truly live what it stands for.
Kudos to TrueNorth for a noble beginning, but I hope it changes course toward a more true course to marketing with meaning.
But maybe I’m being too tough on the brand. Let me know what you think in the comments below.