As communicators, we are faced with the never-ending challenge of grabbing and holding the focus of our target audience. Consumers are constantly bombarded with messages announcing, “Look what I offer! Don’t you want to buy it?” To break through the noise of that advertising, corporations began a trend that instead speaks to the hearts of their audiences and aims to build an emotional connection. Recently, the trend is also gaining steam in higher education.
How do you connect with massive amounts of people at once? A shared cause will do the trick. Social issues are becoming a large part of today’s marketing landscape as they often elicit that coveted emotional response. The result is an opportunity for a relationship between a brand and its target.
Viewers stop and listen (and hopefully, feel something) when a brand says, in an powerful way, “I care about these issues- and I’m doing something about it.” To make this type of marketing believable, an organization should choose a cause relating directly to its operations. H&M’s Close the Loop campaign (2015) encourages their audience to recycle their clothes for a more sustainable fashion market. It works by hitting the emotional nerve with the brand’s target that creates a sense of inclusiveness, acceptance, confidence, and respect of other people.
Chipotle’s ads Back to the Start (2012) and The Scarecrow (2013) promote the growth of natural, non-GMO foods and sustainable farming initiatives.
In the education realm, Western Sydney University has recently released its Unlimited campaign. One ad fluidly tells the life story of refugee Deng Adut in sixty seconds with just the right amount of self-promotion. A social-issue spot like this takes its audience through an intense, emotional story. It’s inspiring. But most importantly, it’s attention-grabbing.
All of these examples share a driving force in common: they guide the emotions of the audience as the story progresses. H&M spurs confidence, relatability, and admiration. Chipotle draws on compassion, conviction, and ambition. Western Sydney takes viewers through tragedy, pain, fear, strength, hope, triumph, and respect. The power of each ad is in the feelings that it stirs in its audience.
Ready to jump on the feelingswagon? Here are a few best practices to create a impactful campaign:
- Give credit where credit is due. Particularly when an ad features an individual, it’s important to not take credit for someone else’s accomplishments, but to point out your brand’s role in his or her achievements. Western Sydney University only mentions their own name once in their whole ad: after the UN got Deng out of Sudan, Western Sydney took him in. After that, he taught himself to read, and he earned his law degree. The spot utilizes a balance between strength and compassion, but never pity- he even chose to live in his car as a free man.
- Avoid shock value. Despite Deng’s time in war and the few seconds of film depicting him recovering from a gunshot wound, the commercial never shows blood or gore. In advertising a social cause, taste and respect keep the audience hooked. They want to feel positive about the subject.
- Creative style is key. Each of the above examples uses very distinct cinematography and accompanying sound. Three of the four I mentioned have no voiceover at all, and instead feature a song that builds as the ad progresses. This strategy is particularly effective when the intention is to direct a viewer’s emotions. Simplicity in each spot eliminates clutter, and keeps the message from getting muddled by extra details or irrelevant information.
- Perhaps most importantly, ensure your brand can support anything said or implied in its advertising. By emotionally investing stakeholders in an idea, they can feel betrayed and outraged if a brand they trusted appears to have lied to them. Especially if it lied about how much it truly cares about a cause. Particularly with social media and the level of global connectivity today, an instance like this can be detrimental. Our Brands Go Up in Stardust post further discusses the pitfalls of an organization not living up to its brand.
For other examples of this strategy done well, check out these other two commercials from the Unlimited campaign: