Confluential: a flow of personal growth, marketing, psychology and advertising

The Gestalt of a Product

The  simplicity of this question gets right at the heart of it,  “Would you recognize a popular product without its label?”  And it drills down past the font or the color scheme, right to the very shape of the product as a way to examine how deeply brands have saturated our lives.

For me it was the angled sides of the cap that gave one above away. It makes sense that as we take in products as a whole we see the colors and the shape and the styling of it, so even when you remove something as key as color, the profile of some objects are iconic enough to spark recognition of certain products. The way some of these  products have an essential claim to certain shape, (much like the brands Kleenex and Xerox are synonymous with their product, rather than just a brand of a product) shows how powerful packaging can be.

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Identity Crisis of the Granola Variety

I’m finding myself both amused and delighted by the new ad campaign for Kraft’s MilkBite Granola Bars. It takes a unique approach that couldn’t be more suited to its target demographics. (Given that granola bars are usually eaten on the go, I’m assuming it’s probably the 35 and under group)

The campaign is comprised a series of ads that introduce us to Mel the MilkBite, a new product from Kraft that is part milk, part granola, and completely unsure of who he is. He is anxious, confused and yet wholeheartedly committed to discovering himself, rendering him an entirely relatable mascot.

Mel accurately captures the somewhat self indulgent nature of the Facebook generation, as seen by his pithy comment in the picture above, and if you go to his profile, you’ll find that it’s full of emo drawings and instagram photos.

His accessibility also extends to young adults. A recent Time magazine survey showed that 85% of recent college graduates will move back home with their parents. Adults are marrying later in life, and will likely switch careers more times than those of their parent and grandparents generation. How does this relate back to Mel? Identity is increasingly becoming a more tenuous proposition, and things are increasingly less clear cut than they were in generation past, so the uncertainty of our adolescence is following us more and more into young adulthood.

I’m enjoying Kraft’s lighthearted and rather apt to connecting with the American psyche. Instead of trying to sell empty promises, Mel the MilkBite’s anxiety and confusion is holding a mirror up to our own.

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Hope In Advertising

Considering the uncle of Edward Berneays (also known as the “father of public relations”), was none other than Sigmund Freud himself, it’s not surprising that the growth of the public relations and advertising industry can be traced back to the application of psychological knowledge to ad campaigns. Berneays used his knowledge of emotional motivation and group psychology to become a pioneer in ad marketing, even working with the U.S government to influence public opinion on World War I.

Strong emotion is still the mainstay for many ad campaigns and a classic method is for advertisements to either invoke hope or fear. If you’ve ever seen a single political ad, you’ll know what I mean. Not every candidate is guilty of this, but there are always candidates in every race that use fear. Jumping on the hot topic of the moment, whether that’s jobs, or the economy or the sanctity of marriage the fear based ads will denounce the opposing candidate as the bringer of all things terrible. Then there are campaigns that work to evoke positive feelings. A good example would be just about any ad for Coca Cola. They’ve explicitly co-opted the word “happiness” as a slogan in many of their recent ads, and their holiday ads are especially designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia. Given a choice between the two, I greatly prefer hope.

Currently my favorite ad is without question Chipotle’s “Back to the Start”, a short(just over 2 minutes) film about sustainable farming. The film follows a farmer’s journey as his farm becomes increasingly industrialized and his eventual change of heart when he realizes how much damage he has caused. There isn’t any dialogue, but the poignant overlay of Willie Nelson’s stripped down, acoustic cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” more than carries the entire film.

Much like the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up, “Back to the Start” takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride, but instead of a love story, this is a story about one man’s fall and subsequent quest for redemption. And while there is no promise of a happy ending, this is exactly why this ad is so powerful, because it suggests to us the possibility of a second chance, a chance to make things right and the possibility of hope.

Hope is also the reasoning behind another ad that has been getting a lot of press, Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad starring Clint Eastwood. In both commercials the company name isn’t shown until the very end, but by then all the groundwork is already done, and all the companies have to do is link their brand to the good feelings you’re left with. As neuroscientist Carla Shatz says, “neurons that fire together, wire together” so truly inspired brand marketers know that commercials that evoke hope are the most powerful because those good feelings get associated with the brand and the product. Good work Chipotle and Chrysler.

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