Imagine a stunning backdrop of cotton candy skies with a cool ocean breeze. Now, imagine that, but only seeing it from afar because you’re sitting inside a conference center in a hotel for three days. The trade-off was being able to take in all of the knowledge that was being shared by today’s top marketers. The sold-out ANA Brand Masters Conference was held in Dana Point, California, and included speakers from American Greetings, Taco Bell, Intel, Subaru and Allstate, to name a few.
Let’s dive into what these brands shared.
American Greetings, Alex Ho
We’ve all seen this ad: World’s Toughest Job by American Greetings. This is the video where it held fake interviews for a position that required the person to do “everything” and for no pay − only to reveal that the job was that of a mom. What’s interesting is how this company has remained relevant in a digital-forward world. Think about it. It’s a greeting card company. You can’t get more analog than that. American Greetings recently had an activation at CES. It teased its product and launch as a “Device Like No Other,” and partnered with Nick Offerman as the spokesperson (which, btw, who doesn’t love Nick Offerman?). Genius.
American Greetings did this by doing these three things:
- Define a purposeful position.
- Use research to determine a provocative insight.
- Have engaging creative.
Melissa Thalberg, Taco Bell
First off, I had to get my head straight and stop staring at her outfit, it was too cute. We need to embrace that there are brands that are positioned to be mass marketers, but that there are attributes that make them small and indie-cult like. The key is to embrace that you can be both. Its mass market side is all about the business: How many Naked Chicken Tacos did they sell this week? The indie-cult side is all about the brand behavior, what brings its brand to life; what people relate to; how people interact with the brand. And Taco Bell discovered this indie side through research. Went to a happy hour that lasted way longer than expected and now you’re hungry? Go to Taco Bell and get a large haul of Cheesy Bean and Rice Burritos, Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos Supremes and Nachos Supremes, and finish the meal with a Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze. (I’ve only heard of people doing this, not that I’ve done it myself.) ICYMI, to build on this mass-cult-like success, Taco Bell opened a two-story restaurant/retail location on the Strip and is holding a contest for the ultimate Taco Bell wedding.
Key takeaway: People are not one-dimensional and neither are brands.
Alan Bethke, Subaru
This was my favorite session because the story of the Subaru brand fascinates me. In 1968, Subaru came to the United States. In 2007, it only had 1 percent of the market share for automobile sales. That’s 1 percent of 17.5M cars sold annually. Of course, it wanted more than 1 percent, so it did a bit of research. Of the 99 percent of people who did not purchase a Subaru, two-thirds said it wasn’t because they thought the product was a poor product, but because they didn’t know anything about the brand. They had no idea what to think of Subaru. They also asked Subaru owners what they thought.
Here’s what was learned, regardless of what kind of Subaru model they owned:
- Subaru owners lovedtheir cars and rarely had complaints about it. It was just a good, reliable car.
- They were so reliable, they kept them forever. Even passed it downto their kids.
- They were dog owners. Subaru owners overindexed in the dog-owner category.
Guess what? All of these insights led to some pretty great spots. Please note how each of the below directly ties back to the research above. The Love campaign raised awareness of the Subaru brand and increased car sales. Subaru went from 1 to 7 percent of the market share.
Carjam: New Subaru TV Ad “Love Stories” Commercial 2011 − YouTube
2017 Subaru Forester | Subaru Commercial | Making Memories (Extended) − YouTube
Subaru Dog Tested | Subaru Commercial | In the Dog House − YouTube
There were overarching takeaways from all of the brand/agency presentations.
- They needed data/research to find the human truth that would tell the story. What are your audiences saying?
- Be nimble. The only constant is change. You must be able to adapt to your audiences’ changing habits to keep your message from getting stale.
- If you make a (brand) promise, deliver on it. Everything you say and do should deliver on that promise.
- Assess if your marketing dollars are working. If they’re not, reallocate them.
- Collaboration and integration between the brand and agency were fundamental for growth.
- Brands respected and trusted their agencies.
- Agency teams had a genuine interest in their brands.
- Each and every one of them talked about purpose and telling their story. There was a purpose in everything they did.
It’s this last point that left me hopeful. These big brands and big agencies talked about the close relationship they had. It was because they thought of their agency as an extension of their marketing team and that they trusted them. They were seen as experts, providing valuable insight, research and recommendations to push the brands forward. They had purpose. Guys, we already do this. This is nothing new to R&R. This is the R&R way. We don’t need to be a big-name agency to get the win because we’re already winning. Every takeaway listed above is something we already do for our clients. We just need to practice it; make it better than the last; repeat. I feel like I’m about to go on some Jerry Maguire-esque rant, but I’m not a burned out sports agent who’s had an epiphany about our industry being dishonest, so I’m going to write a mission statement. No no. (Which, btw, if you haven’t read it, you should. It’s an interesting rant mission statement.) But, walking out of that conference had me pumped and rejuvenated and made me want to sing “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.