Aired August 19, 2015
This week CMO Spotlight—a monthly edition of Marketing Matters—explored how the concept of the ad campaign is being redefined. Executive Director Catharine Hays and co-host Jenny Rooney of Forbes CMO Network welcomed three guests to discuss how new media has driven a revolution in the meaning of a campaign: gone are the days of a single campaign run on an individual platform. The advent of social and digital media, where customers expect a different kind of engagement, means smart companies are breaking with tradition. The CMOs of KFC, Western Union, and H&R Block joined our show to discuss how.
Kevin Hochman, CMO at KFC was Catharine and Jenny’s first guest. The fried chicken company has recently launched a campaign to convince a new generation to connect with—and eat—KFC: 60 percent of millenials had never patronized the restaurant. The concept encapsulates the combination of old and new so crucial to long-standing brands: the Colonel, the emblem of KFC and its actual founder 75 years ago, is—in a sense—back. “The idea was reviving the values of the Colonel, not so much bringing back the Colonel,” explains Hochman. “We were never going to be able to recreate this guy, but we can find a way to honor a real person and get his story out there, particularly to a generation who don’t even know he exists.”
The Colonel represents two things: doing things the hard way—that is, cooking as a craft—and showmanship. “Imagine a man who at the age of 65 went door to door to license his chicken recipe, and by the age of 75 was the most recognized man in the world,” Hochman says. “In the last 30 years of his life he wasn’t seen in public without his crazy suit, his custom cane, Kentucky bow tie, and a superbowl-like ring that was fried chicken-themed. He was a very deliberate marketing showman.”
In bringing back the values of the colonel— his duel sense of authenticity and fun —KFC was careful not to be disingenuous: obviously, the Colonel is no longer with us. That the campaign offers different iterations of the Colonel, based on things the man himself really did, is thus front and center. “The whole idea is we’re running right towards the joke, because we know young people don’t want to be sold to,” says Hochman.
The ad campaign, which continues to develop, has thus become increasingly ‘meta.’ The first ‘new’ Colonel was played by SNL star Darrell Hammond, and 10 weeks later, a new campaign, starring Norm McDonald—another SNL veteran—was rolled out. The Hammond campaign created a lot of social media attention, people we pleased and perplexed by the Colonel’s revival, so KFC decided to add fuel to the fire. In McDonald’s ad, the Colonel is indignant that someone had been posing as him, quipping “They can’t just grab some super funny Hollywood actor, throw a white suit on him, and try to pass him off as the real Colonel Sanders. And I should know, because I am Colonel Sanders.”
Explains Hochman, “The vision had always been to have different characters play the Colonel—to have a new Colonel the way you have a new James Bond—but we didn’t think it would happen this quickly. 10 years ago, before social media, we would have waited. But the debate had started, and we thought if we could pour gas on this thing, we could get a whole other punch out of it.” Honesty, adaptability, and a sense of fun were all crucial to this ever-changing campaign.
Next up on the show, Catharine and Jenny welcomed Diane Scott, Executive Vice President, Global Chief Product Officer, and CMO at Western Union. As Scott explained, “when you’re a company that’s 160 years young, people assume they know the brand, but they often don’t.” Rebranding Western Union has thus been a focus for the past few years, but who to create campaigns for was a particular challenge.
“Western Union is probably one of the most global brands on the planet—any time you’re moving money across boarders, you’re touching two continents,” Scott says. With over 500,000 agent locations, the company has a bigger distribution network than Walmart, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Burger King combined. Therefore, “the brand is sitting on two different pieces of continent…and we need to have a very global site that connects them, but at the same time you need to be very, very local,” explains Scott. “You need a excellent balance of global strategies and local marketing.”
Western Union thus ran a recent campaign, #WUHomeCooked, targeted at a very specific segment Scott calls ‘dual belongers.’ “These are people whose heart and home is in two places at once,” she says. “There are 230 million migrants around the world, and when they’re sending money, they’re making an economic difference to their home, helping the GDP of whole countries. The insight of that segment—what happens and what that feels like—is pretty special and individual.”
Western Union set out to celebrate these dual belongers. “Listening to our social media, we realized that people had memories of home (especially around holidays) that were centered on food and home cooked tastes they really missed,” explains Scott. So the company set up pop-up restaurants in store, surprising certain customers with a meal from home: chefs recreated the specific family recipes they missed so much. “We only did the campaign in the states, but the video transcended the globe: it tied into a universal insight. It was cross-cultural.”
Scott considers emotional connection crucial to marketing: “It’s easy to get caught up in technology and functionality and rationality, and of course they’re important, but bringing in the emotive portion of our brain is essential,” she says. Connecting people over huge distances is certainly an emotional business, and the newer media platforms of social and mobile helps Western Union enhance this quality. “When it comes to engagement, you’re talking about people who are literally separated from their loved ones by thousands of miles. These new outlets of marketing channels have allowed us to get away from looking at things from a purely marketing perspective so we can incorporate the stories of some of the people we’re serving.” For Scott and her team, ad campaigns today focus increasingly on engagement, personal stories, and the all-important emotional engagement.
The show’s last guest, Kathy Collins, CMO at H&R Block, echoed this position. Last year the company—the world’s largest consumer tax services provider—launched a campaign during tax season featuring the catch phrase ‘Get Your Billions Back, America.’ “This campaign has gone beyond brand awareness,” explains Collins. “It is a celebration of tax refunds for every consumer segment in the country.” The campaign features Richard Gertland, a tax professional working at H&R Block, who explains how each year, people collectively miss out on more than a billion dollars in tax returns due to filing errors.
That everyone wants every dime possible back on taxes is the underlying emotional driver in the campaign. “For some people, their tax refund is like their annual bonus,” Collins explains. By pairing this message with an authentic figure who promised painless refund assistance, H&R Block were able to create a compelling and extremely effective ad campaign: Within four weeks of running the campaign, more than 75 percent of American taxpayers knew the tagline, and ninety percent of them tied it to H&R Block. Total revenues in 2014 increased $118 million, or four percent, and H&R Block counts four million new customers in 2014 alone.
How an older spokesman like Gertland, who owns over 200 bowties, would sit with millenials was important to the campaign—young people doing taxes for the first time were a big part of the target audience. “He embodied the values of the brand, and brought a fresh new perspective, but I was worried he could be polarizing,” says Collins. But her hesitation was unfounded: When a focus group of young people were asked what they thought of Gertland’s age, a 22 year old replied “I don’t want the person whose doing my taxes to look like me.” Authenticity—which breeds a sense of trust—therefore resonates more than a misplaced attempt to be something you’re not.
Collins also described H&R Block’s commitment to cause marketing, something she sees as fundamental to contemporary advertising. “Once I saw how powerful cause marketing could be, I was hooked,” she explains. For five years, the company has run a program called H&R Block Dollars & Sense, which helps increase financial literacy among teenagers through curriculum and resources, and provides grants and scholarships to help young Americans pay for higher education.
In the last year, the company launched a Budget Challenge, a simulated game high school students play for nine weeks. “Students have to manage a budget as if they just graduated from college, got their first job, and make $45 thousand a year,” explains Collins. “The kids have to make the decisions—all done on their mobile phone or laptop—that people in the real world make: Do I want a roommate? Do I need renters insurance? Which cell phone plan is best? How much should I contribute to my 401K?” And, like real life, there are curve balls: “They might get hit with an email in the middle of the night saying ‘you’ve dropped your cellphone in the pool,’ Collins laughs.
Such programs are a far cry from the advertising campaigns of yore, but they are profoundly effective in many senses: the brand gets recognized, kids learn crucial skills, and employees feel pride in their work. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my entire career,” says Collins. “It’s amazing to see what a big brand can do to positively change to people’s lives.”
— Alexis Rider
PhD Student, History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
Research Support: Elijah Cory, WFoA Research Assistant, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2017