THE RETURN OF MICROSOFT

Microsoft is making a huge comeback. The software giant has been going through a rebranding effort of late; updating its logo for the first time in 25 years in an effort to streamline its brand experience, and attempting to challenge Apple even further with the continued expansion of its retail stores. Now Microsoft is unleashing an onslaught of ads to promote the release of its latest operating system, Windows 8.

Sure Microsoft always rolls out a robust marketing campaign to support the launch of each new operating system, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s something quite different this time around. In particular, with this ad promoting the Windows 8 picture password feature, it’s obvious that Microsoft went back to the drawing board with a strong focus on reimagining its most popular products, and delivering fresh product marketing ideas to go along with them.

After some problematic product launches in the past, it appears the Microsoft team now recognizes that marketing is only truly successful when the brand and product experience is equally as innovative. Only time will tell if this wave of product launches and colorful advertising will translate into increased sales for Microsoft, but it’s certainly great to see the software giant taking a bold approach to its marketing communications efforts.

THE NEXT BIG THING IS ALREADY HERE

The common expression, “Don’t kick a man when he’s down” might resonate strongly in the real word, but it certainly doesn’t hold as much weight in the world of marketing. A prime example can be seen with the ongoing “The Next Big Thing” campaign by 72 and Sunny for Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone, which pokes fun at Apple and iPhone users.

Although Apple achieved a record number of sales with the recent release of the iPhone 5, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there isn’t a great deal of difference between the iPhone 5 and it’s predecessor, the iPhone 4s. As a result, Samsung has been quick to capitalize on this setback by taking advantage of the opportunity to promote the Galaxy S III, albeit mocking iPhone users in the process.

One of the most innovative features on the Galaxy S III is S Beam, which allows users to instantly share all kinds of media by simply placing two Galaxy S III smartphones back-to-back. Although Apple certainly boasts higher brand value than Samsung, the ongoing “Next Best Thing” campaign is a brilliant strategy on the part of the Galaxy S III maker to take further bites into Apple’s market share, or at the very least change the current cultural conversation around the smartphone category.

BONUS: While Samsung is poking fun at Apple and iPhone users in North America, the Galaxy S III maker is taking a much more comedic approach in South America with the ongoing “Saved By TV” campaign by Mayo Draftfcb.

MORE THAN A PAIR OF JEANS…

The ongoing “Go Forth” campaign by Wieden + Kennedy for Levi’s has played an instrumental role in enabling the brand to reclaim its iconic status in the US within the last few years. In particular, the latest spot in the series exemplifies how brands ought to communicate with consumers today.

Rather than attempt to tell its own story, here Levi’s makes a conscious decision to tell the story of its customers. While admittedly a bold move, this strategy strikes up a more personal conversation with Levi’s customers. It resonates, it works, and here’s why.

Consumers today are all too familiar with brands hurling mass marketing messages at them, and quite frankly they are tired of it. They see through it like clear glass. Consumers want to know that brands understand them; their beliefs, desires, fears, and aspirations.

In a recent article marking the launch of the Best Global Brands 2012 Report, Jez Frampton, Global CEO at Interbrand, addressed this shift in consumer attitude and highlighted the new challenge for brands today:

“Today’s customers are skeptical, vocal, savvy – and have everyone competing for their attention… In order to succeed, brand owners must become more sensitive to the needs and desires of informed and discerning customers who demand high degrees of engagement – and consistency.”

With this “Go Forth” spot, Levi’s is boldly accepting the challenge. By cleverly integrating itself into its customers’ story, Levi’s is able to communicate in a way that connects, empowers, and inspires. Ultimately, this enable’s Levi’s to stand for more than just pieces of denim sewn together, but as Jez Frampton says, “a living business asset”, woven into the very fabric of its customers’ lives. Or better yet, as the narrator in the ad proclaims, “It’s the thread in your seams that’s tied to your dreams.”

DEFINING INSIGHT IN ONE WORD

Along with innovation and social engagement, one of the current buzzwords in marketing is “insights”. These powerful pieces of information are the driving force behind the development of integrated marketing communications strategies. As such, entire teams, divisions and agencies have been formed for the sole purpose of uncovering consumer, cultural and market insights.

A recent discussion on the consumer insights interest group on LinkedIn asked members to define insight in one word. While, of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, this discussion certainly made me take some time to reflect carefully on how I would define an insight.

An insight is more than just pure knowledge about consumer behavior or market trends. It represents vital information that can be leveraged to create value for consumers. Consequently, an insight is not valuable in itself. It’s valuable because it can be used to create meaningful opportunities and solve business problems. But how exactly can this be described in one word?

The best word I can use to describe an insight would have to be seed.  A seed is the propagative source of a plant. Simply put, it brings the plant to life. A well nurtured seed will grow and flourish, while a neglected seed will degenerate or essentially becomes functionally useless. Similarly, insights bring marketing and communications strategies to life, but they only become useful when applied strategically and used in meaningful ways.

The recent “Bring Happiness Home” campaign by PepsiCo Greater China Region (GCR) exemplifies the nature and definition of insights I have provided. PepsiCo discovered that a disconcerting trend for youth is that they no longer want to go home to celebrate Chinese New Year. In particular, a survey showed that around 70 percent of Chinese youth expressed hesitation toward going home.

This insight became the inspiration for their “Bring Happiness Home” campaign which combined viral marketing with TV advertising. PepsiCo developed and distributed a microfilm online, which tells the story of an estranged family spread out across the country that ends up reuniting to celebrate Chinese New Year.

The microfilm also cleverly integrates PepsiCo’s leading brands; Pepsi-Cola, Lay’s and Tropicana. Meanwhile, PepsiCo refreshed the role of the traditional 30-second TV commercial to act as a movie teaser, highlighting strong synergies among the three brands and still celebrating individual brand truth.

While a valuable piece of information, the insight about Chinese youth expressing hesitation towards going home for Chinese New Year only truly became useful when it was used to create value for PepsiCo’s consumers in a meaningful way.

STORYTELLING FOR THE DIGITAL AGE

In today’s digital age, storytelling is still a crucial part of successful marketing and advertising. As part of Jordan’s “Rise Above” campaign, this new spot is one of the few ads at the moment that incorporates a relevant and compelling narrative with brand marketing.

Interestingly, Nike also recently used a similar concept of upcoming talent taking the stage with its “My Time Is Now”campaign:

DICTATORS GET LONELY TOO…

South African fast food giant Nando’s recently released a TV spot promoting their 6-pack meal ahead of the Christmas season. Although the spot is rather funny, as it uses the deep metaphor of connection to poke fun at our basic need for relating to others, it has also drawn much controversy.

The spot mocks Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe by showing him reminisce about happy moments he supposedly enjoyed with fallen dictators, including Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Idi Amin, among others.

Following widespread threats made to the management of Nando’s Zimbabwe franchise, and intense criticism from media analysts and viewers, the fast food outlet was forced to withdraw the spot.

Although the spot  successfully wove in elements of relevance, humor and a universal deep metaphor, it goes to show that sometimes creativity comes at a price.