All joking aside, there certainly ARE some ingredients that, when leveraged with cleverness in a communication, have the potential to hypercharge the idea and make it huge. One of those elements is “country”.
No, I’m not talking about country music…
I’m talking about tapping into that powerful (and potentially very emotional) area of nationality and patriotism.
There are all kinds of ways in which this has been done. Let’s take a look at some of these, from strong to the strongest.
1. The Handy Stereotype – Linking the product to a positive national characteristic or stereotype, or using those stereotypes as a shortcut to defining your product. This is not difficult to do, as long as your analogy is credible (meaning, if you’re talking about German Engineering, your product better be able to deliver it)
The long-running Fosters “How to speak Australian” campaign (along with Crocodile Dundee), pretty much defined Australia for a generation of Americans.
Fine German Engineering – people just can’t seem to get enough of it! Here’s an ad for Bosch.
This Pimm’s ad just reeks London-ness. I don’t even know what Pimm’s is, exactly…and it’s probably pretty gross. But this ad makes me want to try it!
This one for Molson beer is an ode to the things that make Canadians…so Canadian. I still think they say “a-boot”, by the way:)
2. The Rallying Cry – Rallying people against a perceived affront from the outside. It’s the old notion that I’m allowed to criticize my own country/hometown/parent, etc., but if anyone else does it, why…that just gets me riled up!
Instead of just the ad, I’m including the whole case study for ROM Chocolates out of Romania. It’s a 3 minute video and it’s really worth your while. The judges at Cannes this year agreed, and made this a Grand Prix winner in the Promo & Activation category!’
3. The Proud Sponsor – Rallying the people around a common national cause, with the brand or product as a participant/sponsor/enabler – If you’re the brand, you need to be very careful here not to pander. It’s best to take a step back and let things come naturally. You’re aiming high on the emotional ladder here, and if you are seen as authentic the payoff can be great. But if people think that you’re using the “flag” as a mere sales tool, the negative reaction can be brutal.
Here’s a really nice example by the Times of India (TOI). A little long at 2 min, but well written and delivered by Amitabh Bachchan, a famous Indian actor. It’s a small part of a much broader initiative by the TOI called “India Poised”, which celebrated India’s successes and challenged the next generation to deliver on the promise.
Here’s a fabulous ad by Procter&Gamble in the US. It’s part of a campaign that used the 2010 Winter Olympics as the backdrop for Procter’s “proud sponsorship of moms”. Really good stuff, below is the 60sec commercial.
And here’s an ad by Budweiser that aired a week ago to observe the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I share the sentiment, but this is one where I think they reach too far, don’t quite make the relevance link…and the result is just bad. I watch this ad and it makes me want to barf.
4. The Perfect Storm – A rare occurrence. You take a whole bunch of highly emotionally charged ingredients and you mix them up to see what happens. In the examples below the explosive cocktail is made up of :
- Patriotism – flag, colors, history, perceived affronts, great accomplishments.
- Sports – Sports are often an analogy to warfare for the passion, the tribalism, and the concentrated emotion that it engenders.
- A moment in time – Not everyone cares all of the time, but pretty much everyone cares during the World Cup, the European Cup, the Olympics, etc.
“The Perfect Storm” is interesting: when it works it can make people remember and love your brand with the instant and ferocious intensity of a sports fan. But unlike “The Proud Sponsor”, it can’t really backfire on your brand, it won’t get people to hate you. The worst case scenario is that the emotion squeezes out your brand from the picture – you’ll still make people feel good, they just won’t know it was your brand that did it.
First, an example of one that didn’t work for me. It’s from Vauxhall (an English car manufacturer). The first 20-30 seconds had me excited: the music, the sense of collective purpose, the subtle English flag imagery, sweet! (and I’m not even English – but I was feeling it!). But then it just…kind of…went…nowhere. A bit of a letdown, really. No ill will towards Vauxhall, most people just probably saw it, felt good about England for 30 seconds, and then moved on with their lives.
But when you get it just-oh-so-right, you get a gem of an ad. Being Argentine I’ve looked at this ad many times, and still today I get goose-bumps and a lump in my throat when I watch it. It’s about life, it’s about country, about history, about sports, about overcoming, everything mixed together in a super powerful cocktail brought to us by TyC Sports, the local cable sports channel. This is not an ad that is sublime according to my own past definitions, but it packs such an emotional wallop and does it so expertly, that it somehow overcomes all the things it does not do “by the book”. I love it. Check it out:
So there you have it, the use of country in advertising, from harmless stereotype borrowing to emotional, anthemic, all-or-nothing “power ballads”.
There is such rich material to be mined in the idiosyncrasies of each nation, that I expect it to remain a source of creative inspiration for a long time to come. And when done well, I think it just works really nicely. So let’s have at it!
Readers, I would love to hear from YOU if you have good examples to add to this list, please do so by hitting the “comments” button below, ok? Do it now, before your lunch break!
Thank you for reading!
Acknowledgments: A big thank you to Cristina del Valle, who gave me the original inspiration for this post!