The Rhythm of Funny

THE RHYTHM OF FUNNY

Ages ago, I was shooting the kind of commercial that we’ve all seen a million times. A sitcom style set-up with some familiar character archetypes, chock-full of product information, all ensconced in the pale wisp of a joke.

As we were debating some alt punch lines, our incredibly self-aware director took my list and said “these’ll work…we’re just going for the rhythm of funny.”

Naively, I had been aiming for actual funny, but at that point in my career I hadn’t yet wrapped my head around how difficult it is to make a commercial clear that bar.

First off, being funny is flat-out hard. Saturday Night Live assembles the most talented comedians in the world for the sole purpose of creating the funniest possible 90 minutes of television. They have flexible time constraints, an in-house band, an experienced production crew, access to A-list celebrities when needed, and minimal content restrictions. Yet the end result is funny, like 40% of the time?

In the commercial world it looks a lot different. To start, you usually don’t start with the objective of “make ‘em laugh.” If you’re lucky, it’s something like “garner brand recognition through the use of humor that’s consistent with our established brand tone.” In reality, it’s more likely “drive incremental sales.”

But look at you! You buckled down and wrote something you think is funny. It’s now time to proudly present it to the client, and thus begin a series of esoteric debates about what constitutes “funny” with some people who very definitely aren’t Jerry Seinfeld.

AND THAT’S BEFORE IT GETS TO LEGAL

Should your script emerge from the gauntlet of corporate naysayers intact, you must now shepherd it through the magical world of production, where anything is possible with enough money and time. Unfortunately, you have almost none of either.

There are many talented directors and production teams out there. However, most of them work on movies and TV shows, and the few that dip their toe into the fetid waters of commercial humor are way over your budget and booked six months in advance.

Yet that commercial still needs to get made. So, you send your storyboard out on a wing and a prayer to anyone with a camera who has shown an inkling of ability to make something clever and/or coherent happen in 30 seconds. You have a few conference calls, gather the budgets and present director reels to the client. Realistically, this process should take about two weeks but the client wants it done in 36 hours. What could go wrong?

Miracle of miracles, the job is awarded. Everyone nodded along to the director’s treatment and a flurry of activity kicks off. The crew is being hired. Flights are being booked. Casting specs are due immediately. It is a blizzard of activity. And everyone is working frantically to get all the pieces and parts assembled in an impossibly short timeframe.

Director chosen, money approved, it’s time to make a million incremental decisions that will make or break the production. Here is just a sample list of questions I never thought I’d hear but have somehow answered in pre-production:

What do lifeguards wear when they’re not at work?

Yeah, but would you bowl in that?

How many people are in a typical boy band?

Has there ever been a cat in space?

How many inflatable pool toys does a typical middle class family own?

Which coffee mug is more on brand for our character?

Now, you’re at the shoot. It’s go time. “How exciting,” one would think, except that it’s super-duper stressful because these actors who’ve never met before need to develop brilliant comedic chemistry, a corporate VP just called in with some last minute script “tweaks” and your lead client is helpfully telling you how unfunny all the rehearsal takes are. Thank god for craft service breakfast burritos.

But you survived and now it’s the moment of truth. You see the rough cut, and there’s a 99% chance that it sucks really hard. You swallow the nervous bile rising in the back of your throat, along with 700 peanut M&Ms and work through different takes, music tracks and timings until you have something ready for the client to see, and, fingers crossed, laugh at.

Congratulations, you’ve just made the This is Sportscenter campaign for ESPN. Objectively, the only actually funny commercials ever made.

by Jason Schmall

SOCIAL MEDIA, BRAND AUTHENTICITY, AND THE WISDOM OF COMEDY

SOCIAL MEDIA, BRAND AUTHENTICITY, AND THE WISDOM OF COMEDY

If you look at my playlists of albums and podcasts, it’s pretty safe to say I’m a fan of standup comedy. I find the craft of comedy writing inspiring, where somehow a good joke can come together to be irreverent, insightful, and surprising all at once. But I’m also in awe of the courage that’s required for truly great comedy: to go onstage alone, mic in hand, and bare your soul for laughs is an act of bravery. The mark of a great set isn’t just applause, it’s when the comic makes an organic, heartfelt connection to the audience. In their best moments, a comedian works the crowd like a conductor, collectively guiding their emotions through highs and lows as he or she shares their stories and perspective. 

I can’t imagine a more rewarding goal for brands to be able to do the same thing when they engage with customers. So it might help for brands to think of social media platforms as a stage where every night is open mic night with an expectant audience that’s willing to reward them if they do it right. The acceleration of digital engagement along with increasing retail capabilities on social platforms can translate to a real impact on a brand’s bottom line. People can go almost instantly from “unaware” to “trial” in your sales funnel with the flick of the thumb with the right content. But just as in the world of comedy, your audience can just as quickly get bored or even turn hostile when the wrong thing comes out of your mouth.   

This fine line between the potential risks and rewards can make brands hesitant to really commit to social media marketing. But if your brand sees these platforms as a growth driver, the same basic rules of comedy hold true for organizations when it comes to their use of social media in representing their brand.

Image pulled from Dove.com

Be Original To Be Authentic

One of the biggest mistakes is mimicking a popular comic’s style or (egad) outright plagiarizing them. Certainly the same goes for brands.  It’s pretty cringy seeing a brand posting someone doing the latest TikTok dance trend and then slapping their product in at the end. Just looking at the repetitive sentiment from brands last year about how “we’re all together during these trying times” was enough to become its own mockery-worthy meme. Comics and brands alike stand out when they share their own stories, experiences, and perspective. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign has, despite a few missteps, translated wonderfully to social media. And Nike routinely shares its stance on social-political issues and unashamedly embraces the controversies it may generate. Polarizing, yes, but those who align with their beliefs are clearly devoted to them as customers and advocates.

Keep Your Content Fresh

Images pulled from conanobrienhere

On a recent podcast episode of “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend”, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and O’Brien recently discussed the difference between musical and comedy performances. Grohl joked that his fans come to concerts to hear bands play their favorite songs over and over again. However, comedians are constantly tasked with creating original material. No one wants to hear the same old jokes time and time again. Staying present and engaged with customers and communities, and contributing to why they’re on platforms is a must. To “Wendy’s Twitter is a great example – the brand’s timely, funny and even snarky responses to customers and other fast food companies have gained them an enthusiastic following on and off the platform. National Geographic is the second most followed brand on Instagram, where visual beauty is a must. Their account is a constant showcase of their photographers’ work that feels like a true, unfiltered experience of nature and cultures. And brands like Vessi Shoes keep things fresh by giving influencers a lot of free rein to use their products as they create content that’s entertaining and doesn’t feel too forced (just check out how Kris Collins blends their shoes into her TikTok comedy sketches).

Image pulled from Burger Kings print ad

Don’t Punch Down

It’s never funny or entertaining when those in power insult or belittle people who aren’t. Even if it’s well-intentioned, a post that comes across as such can be devastating, as Burger King UK found out recently. Their tweet – “Women belong in the kitchen” – was supposed to get people to learn about Helping Equalize Restaurants (H.E.R.) scholarship campaign. H.E.R. is focused on educating audiences on the underrepresentation of women in the restaurant industry.

However, people blasted the company over the fire (pun intended) for the tweet because the follow-up tweet explaining the intent didn’t show up until 4 hours after the original. To borrow a phrase from one of their competitors, Twitter wasn’t loving it and called Burger King out for using a real concern as opportunistic clickbait.

Bottom line, if your brand is trying to make something happen that feels inauthentic, unoriginal or punches down, your efforts are likely to alienate audiences. In the same manner that great comedians are original, heartfelt and captivating, your brand should strive to do the same on social media. Be brave, be open and be human – your audience will applaud you for it.

Commentary provided by Alex Bragg

Farewell, Gilded Age of Production. Hello, Golden Age of Ideas.

FAREWELL, GILDED AGE OF PRODUCTION. HELLO, GOLDEN AGE OF IDEAS.

When I was new to advertising, veteran creatives would regale me with tales of their pre-digital productions. Weeks and months were spent in LA, sitting poolside, gorging on sushi, and managing a multi-million-dollar TV production replete with celebrities, A-list directors and assured award show glory. 

As digital technology took over, everything got done faster and more efficiently. Those weeks and months of production became days, and that precious time spent out of office was now spent tethered to email. 

I used to feel like I just missed out on the golden age. But here we are in a new era of ideas. While it may lack the lavishness of 90’s brand TV campaigns, affordable and efficient production means more content is being produced and most of it doesn’t look half-bad.

On TikTok alone, hundreds of millions of people are concepting, shooting and posting their ideas and it takes, what, 10 minutes? At that scale, some of it’s bound to be brilliant. (Infinite monkeys, infinite typewriters, yada yada…)

With way, way more content being produced, the public is increasingly comfortable with a wide spectrum of production quality, and they’re evaluating what they watch, and listen to, differently. Simply put, it doesn’t have to be expensive to be interesting.

The Ringer, NBA Desktop

NBA Desktop has been a massive hit for The Ringer. Jason Concepcion, former star of the show, more or less just clicked through links on a Word document, cackling at his own jokes. It embraced content over production value, and while ESPN Sportscenter saw its ratings (and relevance) slide, despite a $125 million investment in a new set, NBA Desktop won an Emmy.

Creating more content improves the odds of making something good. Why put all your time and resources behind one idea, when no matter how much you love it, test it, and spend on it, it simply might suck? (Remember Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?) When you make one big-budget TV spot a year, it has to work. If you make 20 different pieces of content, you can take chances and try new things. All 20 ideas won’t turn out great but one or two of them might be and that’s all you need. 

BBC Three - Paranormal Activity

Blumhouse Productions takes this approach to filmmaking. Instead of two to three big-budget releases, Jason Blum finances 15 to 20 low-budget productions every year. His success is built on the recognition that no matter how much effort is put into “optimizing” a movie, he can’t predict if it will succeed, and in many cases, all the feedback from studio bigwigs actively harms the final product. So, while Paranormal Activity, Whiplash and Get Out were big hits, Blumhouse also worked on Plush, Area 51 and a bunch of other “flops.” 

But “flop” isn’t the right way to think of the movies that didn’t succeed – Blumhouse is just embracing the risk that is an unavoidable part of every creative endeavor (with a smaller financial loss). 

There’s always a time and place for high-budget TV. Big brands play a high stakes game on the Super Bowl and across the broadcast networks, but this isn’t the 90’s. We have the Internet now. You can reach your customers in more places and ways than ever. While breaking through is always a challenge, the smart money is on making more content and taking more creative risks to increase your odds.

By Jason Schmall, Partner, Creative

 

THE SUPER BOWL’S MOST NOTABLE COMMERCIAL BREAKS

THE SUPER BOWL’S MOST NOTABLE COMMERCIAL BREAKS

Growing up in a family full of advertisers, the Super Bowl was always a must-see spectacle. But it wasn’t first downs or quarterback sacks that kept us glued to the television, our attention was always focused on the commercials. However, this past Sunday was different for so many reasons.

Brands were faced with several challenges this year: COVID 19, of course, made production tricky and then there was the issue of brands choosing to make the events of 2020, social and civil unrest and a pandemic, part of the show. Despite these obstacles, it was a pretty good lineup. 

Here are a few of the good and bad worth mentioning:

GENERAL MOTORS “NO WAY, NORWAY”

Will Ferrell is always a nice distraction from the everyday chaos of life. Watching him attempt to take on Norway was comical. What made the story more interesting are the spots that came after from Norway, Tormund Giantsbane, is just trying to save the world.

TIDE “THE JASON ALEXANDER HOODIE”

I just can’t unsee this. The overly unsatisfied personality of Jason Alexander certainly makes me want to wash that judgemental look off his face.

HUGGIES “WELCOME TO THE WORLD, BABY”

Working under crazy pandemic conditions, Huggies decided to make their spot even more challenging by featuring babies that were born that day. Kudos to the team that made that happen. If you’re like me and are currently chasing a baby around the house, the extended version is way better.

JEEP, “THE MIDDLE”

A beautiful spot reminiscent of Dodge Ram’s “God Made a Farmer,” from Super Bowl 2013. Springstein made his advertising debut in an effort to bring the two sides together. The message was nice and well written yet, the country “feel” wasn’t quite as uniting as hoped. Maybe it wasn’t the spot for the Boss or maybe it lacked the one thing that brings people together. People (or maybe beer).

ANHEUSER-BUSCH “LET’S GRAB A BEER”

After a year of hard times, what we all really want to do is go somewhere with our friends and have a beer. Cheers to Anheuser for coming together.

OATLY “WOW, NO COW”

A perfect example of when bad publicity is good publicity. The cancelled spot from 2014 might have been the best strategy to get them noticed. They knew what they were doing when they made the t-shirts, “I Totally Hated That Oatly Commercial.”

TOYOTA, “UPSTREAM”

Instead of letting their Olympic spot go to waste, Toyota brought on the waterworks with the powerful showstopping story of Jessica Long. This beautifully, art directed spot shows how strength and hope can conquer any setback. I was hoping for a little more connection to Toyota.

BUD LIGHT SELTZER “LAST YEAR’S LEMONS”

Last year was a little worse than sour but I like to focus on the bright side. My journey has included making some lemonade along the way. Hopefully the lemon storm is almost finished.

I feel like I should say sorry for not mentioning M&M’s, Rocket Mortgage or Reddit. I’m certain they are worth another look. 

That’s it. I could go on and on and on but these were the highlights. Great job to the teams on and off the field. At the end of the day making a commercial stand out on the biggest night in television is harder than you think. I was hoping my Alexa would be standing out today but she’s still just the same old Alexa, I guess I need to upgrade.

Commentary provided by Kate McGuire

 

Establish Enemies, They’re Good For Advertising

ESTABLISH ENEMIES, THEY’RE GOOD FOR ADVERTISING

In 2007, Yankelovich estimated that the average American was exposed to more than 5,000 advertisements per day. With the explosion of social media over the past decade, industry experts estimate that number has nearly doubled. So conservatively, you saw 5,000 ads yesterday. How many of them do you remember? To stand out, marketers have to tell simple, compelling stories. For inspiration, look no further than the undisputed genius of cartoons.

Bugs Bunny outsmarted Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stopped The Shredder. 

Scooby Doo caught a different masked bad guy almost every week.

Antagonists are key to good storytelling. It was true with Saturday morning cartoons and it’s true with basic marketing strategy. If you want to tell a compelling brand story, sometimes picking an enemy is the best place to start.

HELLO, I’M A MAC

Apple’s Get A Mac campaign was a popular, effective example of marketing against an enemy. The ads typically opened as actor Justin Long, dressed as a casual guy introduces himself “Hello, I’m a Mac.” Followed by comedian John Hodgman doing his best to look buttoned-up, stuffy and boring “And I’m a PC.” Apple created this campaign to humanize their product while setting out to be more approachable to a younger audience

Apple made it perfectly clear what their product stood for by pushing off an enemy — the stuffy, old, boring PC. This way was more compelling, interesting and memorable than a typical ad that focused solely on the product details of the new Mac. The ads were incredibly successful. In the first quarter of the campaign, Mac sales increased 12%. By the end of the year, Apple had sold a record breaking 1.6 million Macs, increasing revenues by 39% and helping to change the way people felt about the product and the company.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Another example of defining a product with help from an enemy is Wendy’s classic, “Where’s the Beef” ad from the 1980s. The ad focuses on a trio of  women in a generic setting reacting to an exaggerated representation of competitors’ burgers with a comical big-bun to tiny-patty ratio. One of the women implores “where’s the beef?” and an announcer voice over breaks into descriptions and imagery of Wendy’s Single that offers “more beef and less bun.”

A Wendy’s commercial that focused on the generous size of their burger patties without the comical exaggeration to compare them to would have been forgotten shortly after it aired. Instead, more than 35 years later “where’s the beef?” is still a well known catchphrase that Wendy’s continues to leverage and pay homage to.

ENEMIES WORK WELL BEHIND THE SCENES TOO

Picking an enemy doesn’t have to mean attacking a competitor. While “Where’s The Beef?” mentions McDonalds and Burger King,  it probably didn’t need to in order to work. Enemies aren’t just for the creative, they can be incredibly useful to think about when writing briefs. Typically, briefs are very focused on your brand, your position, your objective, your mandatory messages. Try using an enemy to crystallize your strategy by looking from the outside in and differentiating from an unwanted or alternative idea — it doesn’t have to be a competitor. For example:

A potential enemy for a fast food restaurant
Another boring $5 value meal.

A potential enemy for a car company:
Dreading your daily commute.

A potential enemy for home and auto insurance:
Confusion and apathy.

Capturing an idea-based enemy in a brief could lead to a more interesting strategy or more compelling creative ideas than the usual way of writing a very brand-focused brief. It could be worth creating an entirely new section for your brief. Or, maybe, it’s just a new way of thinking to try out during writer’s block. So, the next time you’re struggling to find a big idea, just ask yourself, “What would Spongebob do?”

Commentary provided by Dan Whitmyer 

 

How Can Innovative Thinking Survive Research?

HOW CAN INNOVATIVE THINKING SURVIVE RESEARCH?

You’ve got a great idea for a new campaign or offering that’s based on a thoughtful and compelling customer insight. And then you hear three words that make you die a little on the inside:

“Let’s test this.”

If you’ve felt this way, it’s because you’re an experienced enough designer or marketer to know the old saying is true, “research is where great ideas go to die.”  I’ve spent countless hours behind the glass watching random samples of customers as they take an hour out of their day to critique innovative thinking with little or no context. All too often, concepts we’re all super-excited about are slowly diluted down to the point where they lose what made them special, or thrown out entirely in favor of something that everyone can easily agree on.  

It’s understandable why gaining a large consensus looks like success, but what are you gaining consensus around? If the metric of success is what’s most likeable and easily digested by a large group of people, well, that’s not really aligned to the idea of innovation.  

If you look into the stories behind innovation we take for granted, from electric lights to disposable diapers, to cellphones, there is always resistance and derision to new thinking. I’m old enough to admit that, when I started my first professional job, they were in the process of switching from a paper to an online system billing system. During the IT training session on the tool, you would’ve thought the company was asking longtime employees to sacrifice their firstborn when asked to save some time and resources by using their desktops to enter hours.  

People in general have a hard time conceptualizing really innovative “outside-of-the-box” ideas and solutions, let alone understand how they could implement them into their lives. Why? Because we’re asking people to go against instincts and behaviors they’ve built over time, slowly, which are reinforced with our own experiences and beliefs. People go with what they know because it’s ingrained and easy to do. Real innovation is disruptive and challenges the status quo. It can ruffle feathers and make people confused or even uncomfortable.  

Does this mean research around innovation is useless? Absolutely not. Instead of using research as a safety net at the end of the process, we can use it as a whetstone to sharpen our thinking if we re-consider how we’re asking questions, who we’re talking to, and what we’re asking.

Images pulled from the mockumentary film Brüno

HOW WE ASK: IN AN ARTIFICIAL ENVIRONMENT

The normal set-up for qualitative research is in an unfamiliar setting surrounded by unfamiliar people. When people walk into an interview or focus group, they register the thought that they’re being watched and judged by strangers both behind the mirror and sitting next to them. Instead of being honest, people tend to put their best self forward when they’re in a forced group dynamic. Entertaining at times, but not as helpful as it could be.  

Images pulled from the mockumentary film Brüno

WHO WE ARE QUESTIONING: RESISTERS

Mass acceptance and adoption is the grand prize for innovation, and it’s tempting to take our new idea to those who represent the mass market (and ultimately present the largest opportunity). The general consumer population is fantastic to engage when you’re uncovering a problem to solve, as just about everyone is great at letting you know what’s wrong. However, are they the right group to present a unique solution to? As the majority of people are resistant to change, does it make sense to get their opinion on something that forces a fundamental shift in their thinking during a 45-minute discussion? 

Images pulled from the mockumentary film Brüno

WHAT ARE WE ASKING: LIKEABILITY VS COMPELLING

  • “Is this something you think is interesting?”
  • “Based on this, would you consider buying?”
  • “Would you say this fits you and your lifestyle?”

All of these questions basically boil down to the same thing – do you like this? Being likeable is fine, but it’s rarely the hallmark of transformative ideas. If likeability is the deciding factor, know that the idea that’s easiest to accept within the artificial environment is what will win. While your new idea or product might do well in the marketplace for a bit, “likeable” is rarely memorable or exciting. Imagine a friend trying to set you up on a blind date and you ask them to describe this potential love interest. If they led with, “well, they’re really likeable,” it probably wouldn’t get you all that fired up to put on your good pants and go out to dinner.

We should re-think our approach to validation and design and apply research that helps to make the thinking more meaningful instead of diluted. You’ve worked long and hard on that new idea; the approach to how you pressure-test its merits can and should be just as innovative.

Alex Bragg will dive deeper into this topic at this year’s virtual Brandemonium. Register to learn more: https://www.brandemonium.com/

 

The Pandemic is Supercharging the Need for Food Industry Innovation

THE PANDEMIC IS SUPERCHARGING THE NEED FOR FOOD INDUSTRY INNOVATION

When the pandemic began in mid-March, many Americans were met with a new sight — empty shelves at their local grocery stores. Five months later, shelves are mostly full again but many other aspects of the food experience are changing.

THE SUPPLY CHAIN IS RESPONDING TO RAPIDLY CHANGING DEMAND

While the demand at grocery stores has skyrocketed, the closure of restaurants, schools, hotels and other industries led to a huge dip in demand across most other parts of the supply chain. This meant farmers, ranchers and other food producers had goods but nowhere to sell them. As a result, some were forced to dump milk, exterminate livestock and plow vegetables. The interruption to demand is also leading to higher prices. Consumers paid 2.6% more for groceries in April, the largest one-month increase since February 1974, which hasn’t done much yet to tamper demand.

The supply chain has endured, so far. The disruption in meat supply, even as major packaging facilities shut down due to Coronavirus outbreaks, has been minor. However, farmers and ranchers are under a lot of pressure as they grapple with rapidly fluctuating demand and many lose money as customers in industries outside of grocery shrink. Even with many COVID-19 vaccines in the works, medical experts warn that our situation will not change overnight, leaving food producers to wonder how they can sustain this new volatile climate.

ONLINE GROCERY IS FINALLY MEETING EXPECTATIONS

While marketers have been predicting the rise of online grocery, seemingly since the advent of the Internet, pickup and delivery only amounted to about 6.3% of all grocery purchases in the U.S. in 2019. In the past, the convenience of online grocery wasn’t enough for consumers to let other people pick out their perishables like meats and vegetables for them — and the fees associated with these services did not help. Of course, the pandemic has changed that equation. With people looking for ways to reduce contact with others and many large retailers waiving fees associated with these services, pickup and delivery have become go-to options for consumers. 

In August 2019, only 16.1 million households bought their groceries online, leading to just $1.2 billion in sales. When the pandemic began in March 2020, online grocery revenue rose to $4 billion. Online ordering continues to grow steadily each month, reaching 45.6 million households and $7.2 billion in sales in June 2020. Industry experts wonder if online grocery is here to stay, but the fact that it continues to grow month-over-month, even as the economy reopens and more people return to work, suggests real staying power.

A GLOBAL HEALTH PANDEMIC, MAKING PEOPLE HEALTHIER?

“Before COVID-19 came along, it was increasingly clear that the diet quality and nutritional status of Americans was terrible,” says Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Obesity, heart disease death rates and diseases linked to the foods people eat, like diabetes, are all on the rise. Data is only beginning to become available on how people’s diets are changing during the pandemic, but early results look promising. Americans are eating almost every meal at home, even as restaurants begin to recover.

Researchers believe that more cooking at home, if it persists, could eventually lead to reductions in chronic diet-related illnesses, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. But that’s only if healthy eating continues and isn’t a blip on the radar that increased while people were ordered to stay at home and cook more meals from the safety of their kitchens. And while some consumers are cooking more fresh food, others are eating more processed foods than ever. Flour, sugar, canned soups and alcohol—not typically cornerstones of a well-balanced diet—have all surged in U.S. sales during the pandemic. 

This poses a unique opportunity across the industry as analysts try to predict what the future could hold. Food manufacturers have been working for years to develop healthier options. Will the pandemic cause health to stay top of mind for consumers and lead to increased demand for healthy food choices or will consumers looking for an escape look for more indulgent, comfort foods?

SO, WHAT’S NEXT AT RETAIL?

Consumers are poised to demand further innovation, which will lead retailers to innovate around two different ends of the experience spectrum. On the more digital end, imagine smaller footprint stores, like the ones Giant Foods is testing in urban neighborhoods. The physical store may become less important while organizations begin to heavily leverage e-commerce, pickup and delivery on and off-premise. Technology will help customers select from a wider range of goods that could be available to them in mere hours. 

On the other end of the spectrum, pent-up desire for normalcy could lead consumers to power down their iPads and head to the aisles of a supermarket. The new, massive, 100,000+ square-foot H-E-B stores offer one example of new-age supermarkets that prioritize the shopping experience as they build banks, coffee shops, restaurants and even movie theaters into their footprints. As consumers’ attitudes toward shopping change it will lead to new behaviors. And, while retailers will continue to create new experiences to try to appeal to these evolving behaviors, only time will tell which experiences will thrive and which will continue to evolve.

Researchers believe that more cooking at home, if it persists, could eventually lead to reductions in chronic diet-related illnesses, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. But that’s only if healthy eating continues and isn’t a blip on the radar that increased while people were ordered to stay at home and cook more meals from the safety of their kitchens. And while some consumers are cooking more fresh food, others are eating more processed foods than ever. Flour, sugar, canned soups and alcohol—not typically cornerstones of a well-balanced diet—have all surged in U.S. sales during the pandemic. 

This poses a unique opportunity across the industry as analysts try to predict what the future could hold. Food manufacturers have been working for years to develop healthier options. Will the pandemic cause health to stay top of mind for consumers and lead to increased demand for healthy food choices or will consumers looking for an escape look for more indulgent, comfort foods?

By Dan Whitmyer, Strategy Lead

THE INCREASING VALUE OF POLARIZATION

THE INCREASING VALUE OF POLARIZATION

In a time where call-out culture can make or break you, organizations are choosing to make polarizing choices for their brands – which could yield huge risks or rewards.

For better or worse, over the past several years, we have become increasingly more willing to stand firmly on one side of an issue instead of finding common ground. Democrat or Republican, mask or no mask, neon orange or traditional car color schemes (we’re getting to that one).

This creates a bit of a dilemma for brands – stay in a “safe” space to avoid consumer backlash or take the arguably more valuable route and decide to create something that some people love (and others may hate).

ICE CREAM AND ACTIVISM

Everyone loves ice cream but not everyone loves Ben & Jerry’s. The Burlington, VT-based company has been one of America’s top makers of ice cream since the late 1970s with their variety of fun, over-the-top flavors. But, as anyone familiar with the company’s history knows the company is a strong proponent of being outspoken on issues they are passionate about. This should come as no surprise from company co-founders who are willing to get arrestedand more than once – for what they believe, and the brand bearing their names reflects those values, too. 

The company’s Global Head of Activism (yes, they have someone solely responsible for activism initiatives), Christopher Miller, meant it when he said the company’s statement on George Floyd’s death “was not a marketing exercise” and that companies that have been silent shouldn’t worry about entering an “uncomfortable” conversation now. They’ve also been vocal on other often polarizing issues such as LGBTQ rights, artificial growth hormone use in cows, GMOs, global warming and more.

Ben & Jerry’s social activism survived their purchase by Unilever in 2000 and continues to strike a chord with their customers, too, helping them grow from a gas station in Vermont to reported sales of $681.5 million in 2019 – success he equates to being willing to do more than “just sell ice cream.” It’s hard to deny his claim; people talk about Ben & Jerry’s when they take a stance on polarizing issues. Interestingly, Unilever, which also owns the non-controversial, competing Breyer’s brand, can use its brands to benefit from both the activism and the backlash. 

NEON ORANGE, AN UNREQUITED LOVE STORY

In the context of marketing there is typically an instinct to appeal to as many consumers as possible – leading to ideas that are, by definition, the lowest common denominator. This leaves your products and brands in a gray space—no one really loves or hates you. While that may seem safe, the risk to a brand is that no one really cares about your brand or products when you hang out in a gray space. In highly visual categories, like automobiles and fashion, there is tremendous value in appealing to the human desire to be noticed.

When Porsche introduced “Lava Orange,” an eye popping neon color scheme for one of their most popular models, the 911, many questioned the decision. Color choice is especially important considering that 60% of people say that color is one of the main factors they consider when purchasing a car. So this bold color left many wondering, “why design something with such a limited appeal?” According to lore, the car company’s response was simple – yes, a lot of people may HATE this color, but the ones who love it, REALLY love it. Turning off a bunch of people who probably weren’t going to buy a Porsche anyway, was worth it to create true fanatics.

FROM SHOES TO SOCIAL JUSTICE

Acknowledging that it’s impossible to always please everyone, companies are best served figuring out what they believe is right for their culture, employees and customers and just doing it. Which, of course, brings us to Nike. 

Long accused of sweatshop labor, Nike addressed the issue and has been increasingly involved in taking on business and social ethics issues ever since – their biggest, arguably coming in 2016, with Colin Kaepernick. Nike’s decision to stand (or kneel, rather) with Kaepernick made a statement, and so did consumers when they made his “True to 7” shoe sell out on the first day. Nike’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ+ community via its “Be True” line and other social causes has placed the company smack in the middle of the culture wars. But with many of the world’s most popular – and socially active – athletes on its roster, the riskier move for Nike would have been to do nothing. Instead, actions that may seem unthinkable to most brands simply reflect Nike’s commitment to its values and to the athletes that support them. 

The embrace of polarization in messaging mirrors the increasing fragmentation of content. Throughout media, there has been a decrease in a willingness to appeal to the masses, instead calculating that it’s better to identify an audience and demonstrate fierce support for the values they share. The resulting “controversies” resonate throughout the opposing media landscapes provoking boycotts and backlash from some members of the public, while increasing loyalty and affinity with others. Seems unsustainable for a variety of reasons but, in the meantime, we’re all living by the immortal words of 90s hip hop icons, Black Sheep. “You can get with this. Or you can get with that.”

The choice is yours.

CAN BEING AROUND YOUR KIDS ALL DAY ACTUALLY MAKE YOU MORE CREATIVE?

CAN BEING AROUND YOUR KIDS ALL DAY ACTUALLY MAKE YOU MORE CREATIVE?

As summer winds down and economic recovery plans are put into effect, numbers of coronavirus cases are skyrocketing. The question of how to safely reopen schools continues to be a mystery – experts say it’s dangerous, some are offering creative solutions like outdoor classrooms, and many are expressing concerns about the risks associated with not providing in-person learning for families that lack access to the necessary resources to create a supportive at-home learning environment.

If you’re a parent, your most important job is keeping your family safe. But you also have another job, which is um… your job.

Balancing the needs of our families, our careers and ourselves has never been more difficult. The tug of war we are experiencing can force us to compromise. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that Youtube can be educational so you can spend three hours working through a thorny brief, or perhaps you put all your conference calls on mute so you can play dress up with your kids.

It’s now apparent that we’re in this for the long-haul and work is piling up. Getting things done now means taking a video call while your 4 year old dances around your desk and sneaking away at midnight while your newborn snoozes – it’s not easy. 

In the past, coming up with creative ideas required input from the world around us and uninterrupted time to concentrate. With that world in crisis and kids needing more attention, how are we supposed to concept? The answer, ironically, is to get creative.

Accept that you have a new partner in crime. The good news is that they’re amazingly creative but maybe not so great at sticking to the brief. (Did you know LOL dolls also need to manage their blood sugar?)

Try integrating your kids into the creative process.

THE INTERNET IS (SOMETIMES) A BEAUTIFUL PLACE.

We all noodle about on Chrome while working but as parents we’ve developed a love-hate relationship with the Internet (and gaming consoles and smartphones, too). Channel the need for screens into something that can inspire rather than distract.

The Getty Museum Challenge motivated people to recreate art using three objects lying around their homes; the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City allowed their security guard to take over Twitter to not only educate our children about the “Wild West” but provide some much-needed entertainment for the adults; and sites once used for events have included educational programming in an online format. And let’s not forget about Pinterest, be inspired while you scroll through thousands of ideas to keep them entertained, and find something yummy for dinner. 

UTILIZE THE WISDOM OF U2.

U2’s frontman Bono was on to something when he said, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Sure, your parents may have yelled at you to “turn that music down” while doing your homework but research shows certain types of music may help with creativity. It has been found that “happy” music can help people better perform creative or “divergent” thinking.

Additionally, music for many of us offers therapy and stress relief. From balcony concerts that make us feel remotely connected to our neighbors during isolation, to Hamilton’s appearance on Disney Plus and #EduHam at home, music serves as a release from the day-to-day stresses in life and a way to safely keep us connected with others. So, go ahead and get “Lost in the Woods” with your daughter.

GET SOME FRESH AIR

Open their eyes to the world around you and take in the beauty of the unnoticed. The small details up close and the blur of the trees in the distance make for a completely different perspective. Take the time to explore the shapes in the clouds. Sometimes it’s the little things that spark brilliant ideas. You just have to go out and look for them.

“IN A TIME OF TEST, FAMILY IS BEST.”

This Burmese proverb offers a lot of insight into how external sources aren’t the only to inspire – some of the best creative sources exist inside our own home. The partner we chose in life might just be our strongest ally.

It’s been a while since we’ve had to use our creativity in unique ways – to see a pile of pillows, blankets and couch cushions as a castle is design thinking. Maybe listening to music together can lead to discussions on current slang and trends. Teaching your little one how to draw might just help those rusty storyboard skills. Taking time to engage and play games with your children can actually lead to tangible business ideas – just ask Travis Scott about the power of virtual Fortnite concerts.

There’s no one right answer but keep taking breaks to build a marble run when asked. Have your kids tell you a joke (“What do you call a pile of cats? A MEOWtain!!!!) or take them out for a hike and really listen to what they say (they have some very weird ideas about the world). Being more in tune with their needs and giving your mind the ability to wander could actually help to challenge and push our creativity to new limits.

Your mini me’s are always modeling their behavior based on what you do. Maybe it’s time we took a cue from them for a change, and use our imaginations in a new way. Seems like it’s going to be awhile before things get back to “normal,” so let’s find ways to use this new-found time with our families to make something amazing.

 

Commentary provided by Kate McGuire

SUMMER’S HERE. DID THE CREATIVE CHALLENGE JUST GET HARDER?

SUMMER’S HERE. DID THE CREATIVE CHALLENGE JUST GET HARDER?

Coming up with creative ideas requires input from the world around us and uninterrupted time to concentrate. With that world sharply limited and kids needing more attention, how are we supposed to concept? The answer, ironically, is to get creative.

“SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER.” 

From kids finishing school and heading to camps to grown-ups finding inspiration in the great outdoors, summer is a chance to relax, have fun and recharge your creativity. The sunny season is typically full of pool parties, baseball games, and music festivals but this year is a bit different.

Virtual school, as weird as it was, provided some loose structure to our days and gave us a few activities we felt contributed to our children’s prosperity. Now, with many camps and pools closed and families shying away from other summer activities, children have more free time and less to do. Naturally, they turn to their parents for help.

Balancing the needs of our families, our careers and ourselves has never been harder. The tug of war we are experiencing can force us to compromise. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that Youtube is educational so you can spend three hours working through a thorny brief, or perhaps you put all your conference calls on mute so you can play dress up with your kids.

Maybe there’s another way through the madness. Accept that you have a new partner in crime. The good news is that they’re amazingly creative but maybe not so great at sticking to the brief. (Did you know LOL dolls also need to manage their blood sugar?)

Here are a few ways to integrate your kids into the creative process.

THE INTERNET IS (SOMETIMES) A BEAUTIFUL PLACE.

We all noodle about on Chrome while working but as parents we’ve developed a love-hate relationship with the Internet (and gaming consoles and smartphones, too). Channel the need for screens into something that can inspire rather than distract.

The Getty Museum Challenge motivated people to recreate art using three objects lying around their homes; the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City allowed their security guard to take over Twitter to not only educate our children about the “Wild West” but provide some much-needed entertainment for the adults; and sites once used for events have included educational programming in an online format.

UTILIZE THE WISDOM OF U2.

U2’s frontman Bono was on to something when he said, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Sure, your parents may have yelled at you to “turn that music down” while doing your homework but research shows certain types of music may help with creativity. It has been found that “happy” music can help people better perform creative or “divergent” thinking.

Additionally, music for many of us offers therapy and stress relief. From balcony concerts that make us feel remotely connected to our neighbors during isolation, to primetime television sing-alongs, music serves as a release from the day-to-day stresses in life and a way to safely keep us connected with others. So, go ahead and get “Lost in the Woods” with your daughter.

“IN A TIME OF TEST, FAMILY IS BEST.”

This Burmese proverb offers a lot of insight into how external sources aren’t the only to inspire – some of the best creative sources exist inside our own home. The partner we chose in life might just be our strongest ally.

It’s been a while since we’ve had to use our creativity in unique ways, to see a pile of pillows, blankets and couch cushions as a castle is design thinking. Maybe listening to music together can lead to discussions on current slang and trends. Teaching your little one how to draw might just help those rusty storyboard skills. Taking time to engage and play games with your children can actually lead to tangible business ideas – just ask Travis Scott about the power of virtual Fortnite concerts.

There’s no one right answer but start by taking breaks to build a marble run when asked. Have your kids tell you a joke (“What do you call a pile of cats? A MEOWtain!!!!) and get out for a hike and really listen to what they say (they have some very weird ideas about the world). Being more in tune with their needs and giving your mind the ability to wander could actually help to challenge and push our creativity to new limits.

Maybe taking a cue from our children will force our brains to use our imaginations in a new way. As hard as this is, let’s find ways to use this new-found time with our families to make something amazing.

 

Commentary provided by Kate McGuire