Chalk it up to the Jennifer Lawrence Effect. We all remember the 2013 Academy Awards when J-Law tripped up the stairs on the way to accept her award for Best Actress. It was a moment that by most standards should have been a little embarrassing, but instead it came across as relatable. That small misstep is indicative of her brand—effortless, attainable and, above all, authentic.
It seems the advertising industry is finally catching on to this idea of brand authenticity. It is something that has always been around but has finally moved up the ranks from being just a virtue to a necessity. During this year’s big game we saw plenty of brands attempt authenticity—and in my humble opinion, a few hit the nail on the head and even more missed the mark. In a world of staging, pre-recording and scripted “reality,” the pre-meditated flash mob experience isn’t as appealing to consumers as it once was. At the rate the tweets come in, brands can’t risk their trustworthiness or relevancy by being roasted by thousands of online trolls for not practicing what it preaches. Now that the dust has settled from the big game, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on a few of the evening’s most talked about spots.
In the eyes of many, 84 Lumber stole the show with its 90-second spot that ultimately sent viewers to its website to view the full 5-minute video (which eventually crashed the site). Rather than shove their product down the throats of the consumer, they opted to jump on the political agenda bandwagon and create an emotional connection with their brand. Using this tactic of borrowed interest can be a risky move, but if executed properly it can generate buy-in from those not necessarily familiar with the brand. A significant portion of 84 Lumber’s customer base within the building supply industry are first-generation immigrants to the United States, so they took a gamble that their message would resonate with people who were aware of the company and would promote additional buy-in.
Mine might be an unpopular opinion, but in my eyes the ad lost its luster by including a call to action for employment applications blatantly on its website. This move overshadowed the company’s seemingly genuine message in support of their major expansion planned for this year.
GS&F Senior Vice President and Media Director Laramey Lawson also weighed in: “84 Lumber spent $15 million on a 90-second recruitment technique to support their major store expansion in 2017. The ad was designed to embody the characteristics of the 20- to 29-year-old strong-willed, determined and hard-working males they are aiming to hire. The immigration storyline was targeted directly to their audience, as much of their expansion will be in states with higher concentration of immigrants, including California, New York, North Carolina and Colorado. Also interesting to note is that 84 Lumber’s entire media budget for 2016 was only $1 million.”
What about Audi’s spot? The ad served as a father’s plea for his daughter’s future through gender equality and wage gap eradication.
However, not long after the commercial aired the truth behind the spot started trending—Audi has no women on its six-person executive team and its supervisory board is only 16% women. To many, it seemed the negativity of the impending doom the daughter would face in the workforce was amplified by real-life circumstances. As a woman, it felt like the ad was already pandering in its heaviness and it made me think: If a company like Audi can’t even overcome the obstacles of gender inequality, who can? Which, I have to guess, was not the brand’s desired effect on its audience.
If it seems like I am unnecessarily down on this year’s ads, don’t fret—I do have a favorite. If it were up to me to choose this year’s champion, it would be Airbnb in a landslide victory. Their overall message “we accept” was simple and effective. The visual overlay strengthened the message by making sure it would not be overwhelmed by the noise of a crowded party. The back story of this ad makes it all the more impressive to me. The opportunity fell into their lap (no really—the ad space opened up three days before the game) and they seized it. Airbnb recognized their audience and reached out to the larger global community with a commitment to provide short-term housing to refugees and other displaced people while simultaneously pledging $4 million to the International Rescue Committee. Their message, “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept,” was indeed heard. My opinion wasn’t shared by everyone, though. GS&F’s Senior Strategic Planner Allison Kapp believes that the ad fell short, explaining, “The Airbnb ad felt reminiscent of the United Colors of Benetton work from around 15 years ago. You could have taken any brand and replaced Airbnb’s logo on that ad. Given that Airbnb is a company that connects people to places, where people open their homes to others, I thought that there was a lot of ripe ground for them to create a stronger tie between their message and current social issues.”
So what does all of this mean? We have learned how to spot the real from the fake, so the best thing a brand can do is be authentic. At the end of the day brand authenticity leads to a genuine connection, creating brand loyalty. And isn’t that what football Sunday is all about?