A sweet uppercut to the emotions

If you round up a group of regular folks - folks who don't work in marketing, that is - you'll find that most of them say they hate commercials. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word, but they're definitely suspicious.

If you round up a group of regular folks – folks who don’t work in marketing, that is – you’ll find that most of them say they hate commercials. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word, but they’re definitely suspicious.

But moments later you could find them happily singing the Smarties song (when you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?), or rhyming off the ingredients of a Big Mac (two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun…).

To wit: a colleague of mine says that while she was camping last weekend, she overheard someone singing the Neil Diamond classic Sweet Caroline, recently resurrected for a Labatt Blue spot, on a distant campsite. Before she knew it, people from all walks of life on dozens of sites across the campground had joined in, raising their voices as one while the crickets chirped in the background. These people were practically reenacting the commercial.

The thing is, while many are annoyed by advertising that interrupts shows and skylines, we all have guilty favourites that manage to supercede the tawdry reality that advertising is really about moving merchandise. And often those favourites become favourites because of the music, that sweet uppercut to the emotions.

The current campaign for the Quebec milk marketing board (en français: la Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec) is one such wonder. The art direction is crisp and clean; the images, all white-on-white, exude that Quebecois style that we in Toronto are all secretly jealous of.

But it’s the music that makes the campaign: Each TV spot is based on a classic French hit from yesteryear. And while songs such as Trenet’s La mer and Adamo’s C’est ma vie may not do much for us anglos, they elicit a visceral nostalgia from the francophones who grew up with them.

Remember that Quebec is like no other place on earth when it comes to cultural touchpoints. A friend from Jonquière tells me that when he was a kid, everyone in his region thought the Beatles tune Hard Day’s Night was actually a French song by a group called Les Baronets – because the French cover was the only version they ever heard.

The emotional response to the milk ads was so intense that after receiving dozens of calls, the marketing board actually issued a compilation music CD, a risky venture considering they were having a hard enough time selling the milk.

It went almost double platinum. They even brought Adamo back for a tour, where he publicly thanked the board for exposing a whole new generation to his music through its commercials (see ‘Milk’s emotional build’ on page 17).

For this amazing accomplishment, we are pleased to announce that the Quebec milk marketing board was chosen as Top Client Overall in Strategy’s seventh annual Top Clients competition. The other winners are YTV for the youth marketing category, the National Post for media, Shoppers Drug Mart for retail and Sleeman Breweries for alcoholic beverage. (You can read about why they won in the report beginning on page 17.)

That last win may strike some as surprising, given that Sleeman’s shoestring marketing efforts – relatively speaking – may have been lost among innovative campaigns for Bud Light, Budweiser, Molson Export and Canadian over the past year. But one expects consistent greatness from the giants, given their huge marketing budgets and years of experience.

Besides, where are the two biggies for all that effort? They still share 90% of the beer market in much the same proportion as they did a year ago, give or take a few percentage points. Meanwhile, Sleeman has managed to claw its way up from nothing to a full 50% share of the crowded microbrew field, even though some of its direct competitors are backed by Labatt or Molson.

And while Sleeman’s use of music is pretty bad (I hear clinking beer bottles), they still managed to reach people on an emotional level by clothing themselves in the right kind of personality for a microbrew. In fact, all of this year’s winners won because they managed to make an emotional connection with consumers, or at least flesh out their brands with some kind of alluring personality.

When you see the National Post print ads, you can almost hear that throaty saxophone. When you see a blobby creature with three eyes decked out in purple, orange and yellow, you think YTV, and while Shoppers is just starting to build its utopia-esque image, it’s doing pretty good for a retail chain.

These are the brands that will make it in our fast-paced, dot-bomb, wireless, talking-urinal-ad society. As everyone who has a job because they knew the right person knows, we’re all completely irrational beings who make our decisions based on gut feelings, whether they be towards people, situations – or brands.

Duncan Hood,

Special Reports Editor