Remember these people? If you saw one of our “Bedroom Project” presentations back in 2007-08, they were hard to forget. A group of 31 young people in Columbus, Ohio, and L.A. were part of radio’s first ethnographic study, a collaboration of Jacobs Media and Arbitron. The research was designed to figure out what Millennials (or whatever they were called a decade ago) were thinking about media, technology, and of course, radio.
This technique – using real people to get across a message – isn’t new. But as someone mentioned to me at the Worldwide Radio Summit last week, that study (and “Goin’ Mobile” that followed three years later) was the first time radio had seen a “real people” research study. It was impactful. That group of young people made their points during the very beginnings of social media, smartphones, and other burgeoning technologies. And when many explained they didn’t own a radio in their dorms, apartments, and homes, it blew observers away.
So when I came across a recent AdAge article about Chevy’s TV campaign, it resonated. Their series of persuasive and memorable commercials uses focus group recruiting techniques to capture the reactions of small groups of consumers, selected to be typical, attractive, and relatable.
The campaign – “Real people. Not actors.” – has developed a life of its own, and it’s not hard to figure out why they work.
In the event you haven’t seen one – the campaign is 2+ years old – here’s an example of how they’re set up, shot, edited, and delivered:
Note, these commercials aren’t littered with vapid slogans (except the “real people” theme at the outset), nor do they barrage the viewer with a list of stats about MPG, 0-60 speed, or payloads. Instead, they let people do the talking about Chevy cars and trucks.
Why does this matter to radio? Both Chevrolet and its sister company , Buick, have perception problems with consumers. With Chevy, the brand was largely taken for granted by many consumers. In Buick’s case, it’s more about turning around the belief these cars are sitting in older people’s driveways.
This is not unlike the perception problems that radio faces in the wake of new media. How to connect with consumers and explain that radio – or your radio station – is connected, engaging, and in-sync with the information and entertainment delivery of today?
Chevy’s VP/U.S. Marketing, Paul Edwards, and Commonwealth/McCann CCO, Gary Pascoe, explain the philosophy of these ads – and why they work – in the story. As Edwards told AdAge‘s E.J. Schultz:
“We found nothing is more emotive in terms of communicating today’s Chevrolet than real people reacting to the realities of what we have today versus what their ingoing perceptions are.”
And when you apply the campaign’s winning formula to radio, there’s clearly a lot to learn about “real people” campaigns, and modern-day marketing in general.
- Evolve the creative – don’t abandon it. The campaign has already had several variants, but the team is convinced it has legs. As Edwards notes, “Deviating at this point would be reckless.” Rather than scuttling it because it’s getting old, the Chevy and McCann groups are finding ways to freshen and fine-tune it. Radio often jettisons campaigns and promotions because of incorrect beliefs they’re “burned out” or have gone too far past their “born-on dates.” For Chevy, it’s about evolution rather than starting from scratch.
- Real people can change perceptions faster than “facts.” All the stats, metrics, and charts and graphs in the world are easily trumped by a memorable statement from a consumer. In the case of the “Bedroom Project” people above, Dina with the hat was the partying school teacher, Alex was the frat boy stud, Natalia was the charismatic out-of-work twentysomething, and Kurt was the PhD student who used a shower radio hanging from the rear-view mirror of his car. To this day, Paul and I hear recollections from broadcasters who remember these respondents talking about their experiences with radio, even though this study is now a decade old.
- Evergreen ideas still work. There is nothing new about having real people extol the virtues of your brand. Testimonials and “real people” ads have been around for hundreds of years. That doesn’t mean they aren’t viable, and in fact, tried-and-true techniques often just need a 2017 spin. The Chevy/McCann teams have shaken up the technique by going to actual work sites in their truck ads. New variations keep great concepts alive.
- Don’t leave out entertainment value. The Chevy commercials are highly edited, and for good reason. They’re looking for that one (or two) highly memorable lines/people that stick and become memorable. A number of years ago, we shot a series of commercials for FM99/Norfolk with veteran Detroit director, Chato Hill. The spots used people all over Hampton Roads talking about the station, the personalities, and the brand. But a Southern-fried waitress named Wanda stole the show (and the campaign) with a one-liner about the station’s morning guy, the late Henry “The Bull” Del Toro. Everyone talked about Wanda, and in the process, recalled the campaign and the perceptions it was trying to communicate.
- Do your homework. It’s clear the creative group has researched these spots, and reactions to them (probably in other focus groups) to ensure they resonate, are on-point, and continuing to deliver results. Great campaigns need nurturing, tweaking, and even morphing in order to stay fresh and effective.
- Parody yourself (and don’t shy away from online parodies). The mark of a great campaign these days is when others mock it online. And that’s been common to this Chevy series. Parodies are all over YouTube. In fact, the Chevy/McCann team sent up their own parody with Lego figures talking about the all new Batmobile (the spot is embedded below). Snark is part of the online social ecosphere, so you might as well as embrace it. One way or another, other are doing your marketing for you.
Your brand can get more “real” by using real people to carry your water, make your points, and perhaps, even create a highly impactful, memorable campaign. And if you’re wondering where to get the money to fund your own mass market TV campaign, remember it’s 2017. Shooting video (and accompanying on-air audio) for the website and your social media space can become as compelling and powerful as an expensive media buy on local TV stations.
These days, video that is clever and creative will find its own mass distribution via social sharing and word of mouth. And it doesn’t have to be Scorsese quality to resonate and serve your brand’s great purpose.
You just have to shoot it.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.