I’ve been watching more live television than normal lately, mainly because I’ve gotten the NBA Playoffs bug. Something that has amazed me as I dip back into “normal” non-ad-skipped TV viewing is that there are a LOT of television commercials for big brands that advertise completely different products. Here are some examples:
Microsoft advertises Quiksilver. In this ad, Microsoft plays a sketchy and scratchy phone interview with Quiksilver President and CEO Bob McKnight, and we learn that “without technology, we would be nowhere.” There’s nothing in the ad about Microsoft, other than an animated, wadded-up piece of paper suggesting that Microsoft technology is “people ready.”
AT&T advertises TOMS Shoes. In the ad below, we follow the day of Blake, Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS Shoes. During a 30-second span, we learn that for every pair of shoes the company sells, it actually gives away a pair to a child in need. Blake is running around the world giving away shoes, so he depends on a global communication network that works. While his company doesn’t clearly endorse or even mention AT&T, there is a simulated, branded screen on Blake’s BlackBerry.
TrueNorth Snacks advertises Inspiration Cafe. This is one of a handful of ads in which TrueNorth (a Frito-Lay brand) highlights the story of an individual who is improving the world. The ad below (which I wrote about in this blog post a few months ago), tells the story of Lisa Nigro, who created the Inspiration Cafe to serve Chicago’s homeless population with dignity and respect.
There you have it: Three really big companies are spending millions of dollars on media and commercial production to advertise other brands. In each case, the spending brand plays a very minor part in the background of the message, somehow “powering” the featured businesses, or in TrueNorth’s case, sharing a mission to change the world.
1. Many brands are struggling to find a purpose and become meaningful. The fact that these brands cannot find a way to stand out on their own suggests a breakdown in their brand equities. I cannot fault these brands for leveraging others’ stories to break through and attempt to connect with their target customers, but I believe borrowed interest is very, very difficult to win with in today’s market. First, in a 30-second sitting when people are barely paying attention, they are lucky to recall the featured brand, much less the “sponsor” of the ad. My wife, for example, recalled everything about the TOMS Shoes commercial when the topic came up over dinner the other night, but she had no clue that AT&T was involved.
Second, people love TOMS Shoes for what it does, and likely cast aside the very weak connection to whatever global communications network the company happens to use. Further, I find it weak that none of these brands is actually doing something to be part of the mission/vision of the organizations they are borrowing interest from. AT&T is not offering free mobile service to TOMS Shoes efforts around the world, and TrueNorth is not actually helping establish new Inspiration Cafes around the country.
2. Meaningful brands attract attention, and maybe even free advertising. I tell people all of the time that there has never been a better time to launch a new brand. The costs of launching a new product are declining everywhere thanks to contract manufacturing efficiency and low-cost global marketing tools on the Web. All you need is a quality product, great story, and some fans to personally spread the buzz. Now add in the fact that big companies just might swoop in and put tens of millions of dollars of marketing support into your lap for the chance to borrow your mojo. Hell, the ads above show that your new brand doesn’t even have to explicitly endorse the big spenders.
So what should Microsoft, AT&T, and TrueNorth be doing instead? Simple: not rest until they have found a way for their brands to become cherished by their customers. Commit the entire organization to a brand purpose that resonates with the target customer, and then create marketing that itself delivers meaning.