I’m going to write about a trend in advertising that excites me more than any movement I can recall in my career, one I could not have imagined 10 years ago, before the advent of digital, social, and mobile channels that have connected consumers with brands. I’m talking about companies that feature real people at the heart of their advertising. It’s the best thing the entire marketing industry has going for it today, and it would not be possible without the confluence of mobile, social and digital marketing and communities. If your company still uses paid spokespeople to deliver your marketing message, take note. There’s a lesson and an opportunity here for you.
Check out what Dove (the health and beauty aid, not the chocolate) and Dick’s Sporting Goods have been up to. For years, I can recall Dove featuring real women in their TV commercials. Dressed in white under-clothes, these women were beautiful, but not preternaturally so. Dove’s message even then was the importance of acknowledging the beauty within all women.
About a month ago, Dove took this message to another level with its “Real Beauty Sketches” online campaign. You can watch a video of it here. The premise is elegant, daring and effective. A retired professional sketch artist, of the kind used by law enforcement, asks women to describe themselves so he can draw them. He can’t see his subjects, and they can’t see him. Next, he interviews other people who spent time with these women and asks them to describe the women they met. The project resulted in two sketches of each woman: one based on a first-person description, another based on a third-person account with no prior relationship with the subjects.
The video then shows the subjects confronting the two sketches that the artist made and observing, one after the other, how the picture made possible by the third-party account was more accurate and more attractive than the one generated by their self-descriptions. Dove’s core message comes blazing through: you are more beautiful than you know.
There was a time when advertisers absolutely had to be on television to reach large audiences, but no more. In fact, channels such as YouTube attract millions of eyeballs. On YouTube alone, viewers have watched Dove’s 3-minute video over 54 million times in just one month. That’s 162 million minutes, or 2.7 million hours customers have spent with Dove’s brand. By comparison, the American Idol finale last week attracted 14.3 million viewers, so buying two 30 second TV ads on the show would have resulted in 14.3 million minutes, or 238,000 hours. One 30 second spot on the show cost about $430,000, and though I don’t know how much Dove spent producing and promoting its “Real Beauty” video, I bet the company pulled it off for a lot less than $860,000. In addition, as a result of choosing digital distribution online, Dove got a trove of data, too, that traditional TV can’t deliver.
Dick’s Sporting Goods wants its customers to know that it passionately believes in getting in shape, making the team, or shaving time off our personal bests. Rather than follow the decades-old trend of using professional athlete spokespeople, Dick’s showcases names and faces you probably don’t recognize, though based on their stories, Dick’s thinks you should. Check out the company’s #RunFor campaign, which you can see in a carousel of videos near the top of its YouTube channel here. All of them showcase people who have turned to running in ways that will inspire. Some of their stories will put a lump in your throat. All of them are true. I’m especially fond of Lisa and Sally’s story, the gist of which I won’t spoil here. You need to watch it for yourself.
By my count, Dick’s has published 11 videos that have been watched a total of about 558,000 times. Each one is about three minutes long, so that’s about 28,000 hours spent with the Dick’s brand.
Both these campaigns have amazed me and illustrate just how dramatically the advertising business has transformed in the last 10 years. First, both embrace long form storytelling, eschewing 30 second formats so common on TV. Second, their creators built their foundations online, not on television. Third, they both have used social media to amplify their messages. On Twitter, Dick’s has been using and encouraging the #RunFor hash tag. For Dove, it’s #realbeauty.
How does mobile fit into this? I believe smartphone apps and browsers enable companies like Dick’s and Dove to build these user-centric campaigns more easily and authentically than ever before. Though I don’t know anyone at either firm, I suspect they each used Twitter to ask users to share their stories and recruit candidates who could become the stars of these campaigns. Because smartphones have become so ubiquitous and immediate, it’s now possible to build these communities through every other channel a business uses to promote itself, including its traditional advertising, retail, events, press releases, and more. That’s because companies know that wherever and however it attracts a customer, a smartphone capable of delivering an immediate and measurable response is sure to be in that customer’s pocket or purse. That makes it possible to use these existing channels to encourage a customer’s direct response via her smartphone.
Contrast this to the pre-smartphone, pre-social media era. To build and promote campaigns like these would have cost hundreds of thousands if not millions in primary research, production and media buying. Once complete, they would be nearly devoid of useful and immediate customer feedback. In other words, they would have cost much more and been tone deaf.
I believe any organization can learn from Dove and Dick’s. Start by dedicating a resource to engaging users through Twitter and Facebook. User your existing footprint, e.g. a store checkout or website, to recruit users to these communities. Experiment by asking them to share their stories. Listen and determine what they think of your brands, products and services. Figure out the devices they use to touch your brand, e.g. mobile, tablet, laptop, 800 number, etc., and optimize those channels for customer feedback and outreach. Think about how you can make these customers the stars of your campaigns, and promote them through the very same channels you both used to find one another: mobile, social and digital.
Savvy marketers surely are applying their own, smart caveats to this guidance. For example, if you cater to an audience that does not use social media or has low smartphone penetration, then perhaps this isn’t for you. The number of organizations for which this applies gets smaller every day, however, so the reasons to not engage in this way are diminishing.
We are entering a new golden age of advertising, one marked by breakthroughs in both the creative and the quantitative aspects of the business. The authentic celebration of the consumer is more powerful than any creative movement that preceded it. The data available to those who advertise on mobile, digital and social channels makes it easier than ever to find an audience. The good ol’ days, in other words, are right now.