Attaching a corporate brand to acts of kindness

Some thoughts about an interesting TV commercial that I think largely works … and partly doesn’t.  

It caught me off-guard from the start with its gentleness, lack of dialogue, and Sarah McLaughlan-like music.  It begins with a man picking up a stuffed animal for a mum who hasn’t noticed that it has fallen from her child’s stroller.  In a next scene, she does something to help another stranger.  Another man sees that happen, and in the following scene he is motivated to prevent damage to a stranger’s motorbike.  It continues like that, one witness to kindness then noticing some way they can do something kind and helpful for someone else.  At the very end, we see the logo for an insurance company, Liberty Mutual.

A few things are really interesting about it.  Even when I was about to write about it here, I had to stop myself from using the term ‘public service announcement’.  Of course it isn’t, it’s a commercial.  Yet there is a takeaway for a viewer like me that is unrelated to insurance, and is more about inspiration to work on leading my life as a better person. 

  It’s appropriate that I saw this first mentioned on Craig Lefebvre’s social marketing blog, because it is selling a commercial product, and yet it attempts to convince all viewers essentially to alter their behaviour.

There’s a huge possibility with an ad like this for crossing the line of saccharine, becoming ripe for parody, and for me it doesn’t do that. 

It would also be really easy to remember the moving parts of the commercial, and entirely forget what brand or product is being sold.  The folks who paid for the ad might not be too happy about that.  Interestingly, I think they succeed with another delicate balance here.  They manage to avoid a cynical response in viewers, but manage to keep the company name memorable – I don’t live in the company’s market, but I remembered their name long after viewing it.

The only puzzling part, which for me is ineffective, is the reference to ‘personal responsibility’.  The ad equates these acts of kindness or caring toward other human beings, as acts of personal responsibility, and for me that’s a disconnect, it’s not what the ads say.  It’s possible that’s a cultural difference.  The website of the ad’s creator refers to some of the background behind the campaign, and they say that responsibility 

‘is one very hot subject in America. It’s such an emotional thing for people.  They’ve got some very strong opinions about it. What it is and what it isn’t.’ 

 Because the US constitution stresses the rights of the individual (freedom of speech and such), maybe the term ‘responsibility’ in the context used in this ad has greater resonance in the States than where I live, in Canada. 

I still think the feel-good ad works.  It effectively connects the insurance company’s brand with a message about integrity, about commitment to take care of one another just because it’s the right thing to do.  It manages to connect values and behaviour change to a brand, without the message turning sour.

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