Anatomy of a Modern Ad: How Our Purchasing Has Power

I’m going to go ahead and call it: this is the best alcohol advertisement I have ever seen. This may even be the best advertisement I’ve ever seen. Why? 1) It tells a story. 2) It engages the audience emotionally. 3) It promotes positive messages about family and literacy and…. 4) It gives you something (a good feeling/entertainment/ etc) before it asks you to buy the product. I’ve noticed a growing trend lately: companies are not just relying on the traditional “best selling points” (e.g. sex sells). They are using their advertisements and marketing campaigns to promote ideas that improve the world. Whether it is empowering young girls to learn and build (see the GoldiBlox ad below), solving health problems in developing countries, or just telling and celebrating the stories of an increasingly diverse nation. This is in contrast to meaningless Wendell Berry Quote drivel like “Not Normal,” the Mini Cooper ad I wrote about last year. Of course, the main goal of all these brands is to sell product, no doubt about it. And it could be convincingly argued that they are simply responding to the Millennial Generation’s value-based buying habits. But, this is bigger than reaching sales goals. It has power.

Value-based buying habits? According to market research, “U.S. consumers ages 18-34 engage with brands far more extensively than older generation, and they expect their values to be reflected in the brands they purchase.” Like my generation is fed up with the murky waters of politics, we expect to know about the brands we support, and, in the same way we surround ourselves with people with our values, we choose companies who reflect our values. Combine this with the incredible potential of the internet and social media to create real social change, and you finally have a generation holding the reins of big brands, instead of brands choosing the direction of society. To refer back to the above mentioned study, “Social media and mobile devices amplify and accelerate the impact of Millennials’ brand choices and feedback.” We have the power to demand a higher standard of conduct and ideology from even the biggest companies.

I’ve seen this from the consumer point, of course, but I’ve also experienced it from the business side. My mom owns a granite counter top business. When she started her business ten years ago, her goal was to offer a level of craftsmanship and local expertise (versus big box store offerings) that consumers were having trouble finding. But more than that, from the start she was determined to either be successful as a honest business that took care of its employees and cared about its community or to go out of business without compromising her values. Everyone (*cough* male business owners *cough*) told her she needed to just try to be the cheapest, to not offer her customers so much extra help and advice, and especially to not pay her employees so much. But she didn’t listen.

I'm sure you recognize this little girl.

I’m sure you recognize this little girl.

And when I took over marketing for Granite Grannies, my job was easy. I didn’t have to come up with catchy slogans or convince people to buy things they didn’t need. All I had to do was tell our story, and show them our quality work. And you know what? It worked. Business is great at Granite Grannies, and the more the reputation of that brand grows, the more opportunities my mom has to keep supporting local craftsmen, paying good wages, designing home elements to last, and giving to local causes.

So, in conclusion, I hope you recognize how much power you have to change the world, just by the brands you choose to interact with. The recent Meaningful Brands study predicted that companies who aren’t deemed meaningful by consumers will have trouble keeping up in the near future. Their advice to companies: “”Impact people’s lives. Focus on well-being from your product. That’s tough. You have to have that right from the get-go.” So hold businesses to that standard. Don’t settle because you don’t think you have any power to change corporations. Thanks to social media, the individual has a voice and a platform and a chance to create a ripple effect. What ideas do you want to promote in the world? Use your buying power to harness the platform of advertising and encourage the growing practice of using branding to accelerate social change.

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