Clydesdales, Geckos, Rainbow-Pooping Unicorns…
You already know who I’m talking about. You know the brands that created these characters with the intention of getting you to buy something, and you probably enjoyed the process.
Budweiser, Geico, and Squatty Potty may have bigger advertising budgets than most small businesses could ever afford, but we can analyze the best commercials, understand what makes them work, and cook up effective commercials no matter your budget.
Let’s have a look at some of the best commercials (and some that missed the mark) and figure out what made them great (or not so great).
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The Best Commercials are Surprising: Outpost.com
I remember when this commercial was released over 20 years ago. I was a teenager at the time, and I laughed. A lot. I laughed again when I revisited it this week.
This video highlights something important, the best commercials are surprising in some way. It doesn’t always have to be funny, but we do have to find a way to interrupt the pattern and cut through the noise the audience is used to seeing (and scrolling past).
The problem I have with this ad is that… to this day, I still have no idea what outpost.com does. How was I ever going to be motivated to buy something? Thanks for the laugh, but I really have no idea if your product/service can help me.
The Best Commercials Explain What You Do: ShamWow
Where outpost.com failed to tell me who they are, ShamWow explains it to a mind-numbing degree. Like all infomercials, if I can force myself to pay attention long enough, I will know every single feature and benefit of the product or service.
The problem is, it’s SO boring. There is no surprise, there is nothing memorable. Granted, this style will result in some immediate purchases when it’s placed in front of exactly the right person, but this kind of commercial will not build an endearing brand.
Stick around and you’ll see some examples that are both surprising and informative.
The Best Commercials are Character Driven: Old Spice
Old Spice released this gem almost a decade ago and spun it off into multiple ads. What makes it work so well (other than being hilarious)?
The best commercials are character driven, and that character should represent the consumer of your product or service – not you. They are always the hero of the story.
They are Luke, you are Yoda.
About them, it is.
Once you’ve established your character, use them everywhere your customer interacts with you. Start with the hero image on your website.
If businesses would start applying this principle, we could be spared countless hours of watching bad, boring commercials. I highly recommend reading Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand to learn more about creating a Hero’s Journey for your business. In fact, much of this article is inspired by this book.
The Best Commercials Clearly Address a Problem: Apple
Remember these commercials? It seemed like there were hundreds of them. I was one of the millions of people that switched from a PC to a Mac during this era. Why? Because Apple was directly addressing the problem that many of us were having, we wanted our experience with our computer to be easier.
All of the ads in this long campaign addressed that one problem. It spoke to our insecurities and our frustrations and ultimately led to a lot of Apple converts. When you are trying to uncover the problems your customer has, dig deep. Look beyond the obvious. Look for the emotional factors that come into play. Apple could have focused on “well, people need a computer”. That would have been lame.
The Best Commercials Position You as an Empathetic Guide: Discover
When most business owners start talking about themselves, they can get a little long winded. They’re proud of what they do, they think they’re the best at what they do, and they want to show their authority.
That’s actually a really good thing. You need to believe in what you do. You need to display authority and show it – in small doses.
These commercials from Discover take a different approach. They show a series of customers calling in the support line and talking to people who are just like them. The beautiful thing about this campaign is that it positions their brand in a very empathetic way – “we’re just like you.”
That’s often just as powerful, and maybe more so, than showing authority.
The Best Commercials Show People What Life Looks Like Without Them: Allstate
Fear is a powerful motivator. Allstate Insurance has done a masterful job of toying with our fear with their Mayhem character.
In this long-running campaign, we’ve seen mayhem flood apartments with overflowing toilets, burn a house down with dryer lint, crash a car with a faulty GPS, and dozens of other scenarios that make us wonder… could that happen to me?
Is there a way that you could show people how they will fail if they don’t buy your product or service?
The Best Commercials Connect with Our Humanity: Dove
If Allstate excels at painting a picture of failure, then Dove has shown us that the best commercials display success.
You might be thinking… success? They didn’t even show me their product. I don’t even know how clean those people are or how good they smell!
I would argue that the strongest pictures of success go beyond the results that our products and services offer. They go right down to our most basic human desires.
Dove understands their hero. They know that their hero wants to be accepted, they want to feel whole. Dove decided to show a journey of self-realization where these women saw themselves as beautiful. That is a very meaningful measure of success for Dove’s hero, one that runs deeper than smelling nice or being clean.
Is there a shared value that you can relate to with your customer? Can you imagine telling a story in a commercial that illustrates what success looks like for them on a human level? Maybe your hero wants power, position, or status. What does that look like?
The Best Commercials Show Us Who We Want to Be: Gerber Knives
I carry a Gerber knife in my pocket every day. I use it occasionally to trim loose threads off of clothing or open up a particularly stubborn toy package for my kids. It’s handy.
But that’s not why I bought the knife.
Gerber understands this. Gerber tapped into my fantasy and activated my imagination (and ego) by connecting with what Donald Miller calls my “aspirational self”.
They know that when I saw the knife, I didn’t imagine myself trimming hangnails, oh no… I was in the middle of the jungle fashioning a shelter out of wood and leaves while defending my family from a hungry, man-eating tiger. Sold.
The Best Commercials Create Short Term ROI AND an Endearing Brand: Chatbooks
Take a peek at the number of views on this commercial. As of March 2019, it’s approaching 17 million. They’ve also rolled out several sidekick videos. Endearing brand? Check.
What about short-term ROI? According to From Poop to Gold: The Marketing Magic of the Harmon Brothers, this campaign paid for itself within 48 hours of release. After that it was gravy. Lots of gravy.
This commercial has successfully implemented everything we’ve talked about so far. It is character driven, it is surprising, it explains the product, it clearly addresses the problem and presents an empathetic solution, we see what life looks like without chatbooks, moms have connected to an authentic human experience, and we see a glimpse of the aspirational-mom.
The truth is, I could have really put any of the Harmon Brothers videos on this list. If you aren’t familiar, I suggest taking a peek at their campaigns for Poo-Pourri, Squatty Potty, Purple Mattress, Fiber-Fix, Camp Chef, and ClickFunnels.
The Best Commercials Don’t Have to Break the Bank: Sandstone Chiropractic
Now, let’s bring it down to Earth.
If you’re a small business owner, you don’t have millions of dollars to spend on ad campaigns like the brands above. That’s ok. You can still create effective commercials by using the strategies we’ve discussed here.
We created this video a few years ago for a local chiropractor. I can tell you that it was affordable enough that any small business could do it, around $1,000 – and it was the best commercial in our local area at the time. In fact, when it comes to chiropractic marketing, this type of video easily stands out above most of the noise we see on our newsfeeds.
It’s not perfect, but it is character-driven with the patient as the hero, it is surprising, it briefly showed what problems can be solved, and because “Dodgeball Danny” is actually known as one of the doctors in our area, it created some empathy.
In short, this spot generated an immediate increase in appointments scheduled and helped to lift Sandstone’s brand locally. This series spun off into similar commercials with new characters. It was part of a video marketing strategy that included several channels.
I hope that these examples have inspired you. With the thousands of marketing messages we see daily, It’s tough to grab attention. But you can do it if you follow these principles:
- Be Surprising
- Explain What You Do
- Use Character-Driven Stories with Your Customer as the Hero
- Clearly Address Their Problems
- Position Yourself as an Empathetic Guide
- Show People What Life Looks Like Without You
- Connect with Their Fundamental Human Desires
- Show Customers Their “Aspirational Self”
- Focus on Short-Term ROI AND Building an Endearing Brand
- Know That You Can Do This Regardless of Budget
Now, read this article on Getting More Views on Youtube and then go create!