If you have a poor image of me, how would I change that?
Should I call you up on the phone and tell you how great I am?
Or, is it more useful to have somebody who knows me, someone who’s worked with me and spent time with me, call you up, and say, “You have Mike Barber all wrong. He’s a great guy.”
I’ve been a creative director for over a decade, and a writer and storyteller for much longer. I’ve worked on campaigns for iconic brands and Fortune 500 companies. Over time, I’ve learned that advertising is a conversation and an opportunity to tell a story.
When there’s a poor opinion of your company, you need to change the story you’re telling. The most effective way to do this is to allow others to speak on your behalf.
A great example of this approach is on TV right now. By studying it, we can understand the power of using real customer stories and voices in advertising.
Earlier this week, I watched the NBA Playoffs, and during a commercial break, a spot ran that almost made me cry.
The commercial told the story of Coogan’s, a local New York City neighborhood bar. Through archival footage, social media headlines, and news reports, we learn that the bar is closing down due to the coronavirus after decades of service. Coogan’s seems like so many local Irish pubs. The places where we all get together after work, to watch a game, to hang out with friends.
As we see the story of Coogan’s, we hear the voices of Coogan’s.
We listen to the voice of Peter Walsh, Coogan’s owner. We listen to the voice of a local news anchor telling us that Coogan’s is closing. We hear the voices of bar patrons talking about how special Coogan’s is to the community.
“Everybody has a “Coogan’s.” And, in the next three months, half of those small businesses will close if we don’t do something.”
These testimonials paint a bleak picture. But, emotionally, the ad is inspiring. The saving grace is that the commercial’s musical backing is a melancholy version of the Gloria Gaynor disco hit, “I will survive.”
As the ad closes and we see footage of Peter jogging through the city as the sun comes up on a new day, we hear a choir of kids singing, “Did you think I’d lay down and die? Oh no, not I. I will survive.”
It brought tears to my eyes. And then I got to the end and learned that it was an ad for Facebook.
Why is Facebook advertising on TV?
Everyone uses Facebook. Why waste money to advertise it on TV? If anything, TV should be advertising on Facebook, right?
Facebook is telling these stories because they need to change your opinion of them.
The social media platform has faced a lot of criticism over the past year, and they’ve received an avalanche of negative press.
- In July, advertisers boycotted over hate speech on the social media platform. This was just one of many boycotts Facebook has suffered.
- Over the past year, Facebook’s founders have had to testify publicly to Congress to answer for the usage of the platform in meddling in U.S. Elections.
- The President and other leaders have claimed that Facebook has biases and censors content.
- Terrible press clippings, including multiple data breaches, public exposes about their toxic company cultural problems, and leadership shakeups.
All of the above adds up to public distrust, low opinion polls, and people deleting their accounts.
A new approach
As Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.” And that’s what Facebook has decided to do the last few months.
The common thread? They’re all real stories, all told in their customer’s voices.
Facebook is looking to change people’s opinions of them by associating themselves with their customers. They’re choosing to define themselves by the small businesses and ordinary people who use the platform. The companies they’re featuring in ads are “Mom and Pop” and not corporate titans.
The visual execution matches the stories too. The footage is user-generated and low-fi. In many cases, the ads leverage content that looks like content on Facebook.
The creative approach is deliberate and a massive departure from the flashy and slick Super Bowl Ad they premiered in January.
That ad campaign positioned Facebook as cool, off-beat, and a place where people could find everything. The ads featured celebrities like Chris Rock, and Sylvester Stallone with over-the-top metal music and pyrotechnics.
What can we learn?
Is the new approach effective? That remains to be seen. But there are some lessons that we can take from the approach.
- Your brand with your customer’s opinion of you.
It’s much easier for people to associate with people than a logo. When you see people who look like you, when you see businesses that look like the businesses in your community, and when you hear voices that sound like somebody you know, a bond is formed. It transcends marketing or branding. A company can feel familiar.
- Your Customer Stories can change the conversation about your business.
If there are negative customer comments about your company, they can be addressed with positive customer comments. If there are doubts about your product or service, using successful case studies can assuage those doubts. I’m not advocating that companies ignore problems within their organization or don’t address their product’s shortcomings. I’m saying to tell a story about the value your company brings; you need to show successful examples.
- Customers validate you.
It pays to have ordinary people vouch for you. Hiring a celebrity to gain credibility is excellent. Having an “Average Joe” endorsement can mean more. The average person is savvy and knows that stars get paid to appear in advertising, whether they’ve used your company or not.
You don’t need to have a bad reputation to leverage your customer’s stories in your advertising. The lessons above are as useful for a new brand, beloved brand, or brand in crisis.
It’s interesting to see Facebook pivot to using real customer stories in their advertising. Instead of hiring PR firms or ad agencies and creating an insincere re-branding campaign, they went with a more straightforward, organic approach. That approach feels more relatable and accessible. It might cause people to think of Facebook more positively.