Connecting People with Products and Services

By Brian Castle | 6 Minute Read

For a recent Tangents interview, I sat down with Trig’s video and photography wunderkind, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, to discuss multiple aspects of her work.  During the course of the interview, she touched upon an inspiring subject, the notion that her work could help people reach deeper connections with the products and services of Trig’s customers.

All of us at Trig view these deeper connections as foundational to the success of our company’s branding efforts for clients.  Cristina’s observation made me think to ask different members of our team to take a look not at our own work, but to think about the great work that other agencies are doing to promote brands in new and different ways.  The answers I got to these questions were not only reflective of the diverse talent we have at our disposal, but of the really cool ways that the least complacent megabrands are using to stand out in a crowded, noisy marketplace.

Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Video Production Specialist: Procter & Gamble

My favorite branding effort from recent months is the commercial shot by Procter & Gamble for the Olympics, and the way they connected athletes and their mothers—the same women who washed years and years’ worth of sweaty, dirty laundry.  In these spots, the moms now have the privilege of watching their kids triumph at the Games.

The commercials are awesome, in the way that they place little kids—of elementary school age—in roles normally reserved for adult athletes. It’s visually startling to see 10-year-olds with intense, competitive “game faces” on while readying themselves for Olympic events ranging from powerlifting to track and field to swimming.  When we see the moms in the stands cheering them on, we realize, as the tagline soon tells us, that in their mothers’ eyes, the Olympians will always be kids.  There’s a real genius to this, as the moms are the ones who, in most families, select P&G’s household products that range from toothpaste to batteries.  The commercials obviously honor those customer moms directly, and they make those of us who love our own moms recall them fondly.

I think these spots transcend the normal “our detergent cleans better than your detergent” ads—the ones where they wash one clothing article with Tide and another with “Brand X.” While I know these comparison spots serve a real purpose, it’s the ones like the Olympic spots that really aspire to those deeper connections.  This aspirational aspect of the work really seeks to bring out the best in people, and I think the brand really resonates as a result.  

Jessica Springer, Engineering Consultant: Subaru

My favorite brand connection comes from the recent Subaru commercials that depict the life of a family and their dog. The commercial starts with a young man getting a Labrador retrierver puppy, and it shows them going places in his Subaru.  Then, the guy gets married, and the dog gets bumped to the back seat in favor of the new woman in their lives.  After the couple has a child, the aging dog then moves from the back seat to the cargo area, making way for the baby’s seat.  At this point, you can see that the dog has white hairs all over his face, and that he’s looking plaintively at his male companion as if to say, “Hey, don’t forget I’m back here!”

This commercial really hit home for me as a dog lover, and it makes me realize that our family has grown and our dog receives a little less attention and prominence as a result.  Our dog has also accumulated a significant amount of white hair in recent years!  I think this commercial is supposed to illustrate that your Subaru is always there for you, and the part that I always focus on is the dog and how no matter how the family changes they are always with you and remain loyal.

Patrick Murphy, Industrial Designer: Samsung

I think Samsung’s new campaign, dubbed “The Next Big Thing Is Already Here,” is absolutely brilliant. The setting of the commercials is usually some long line of millennials camped outside of an electronics retail establishment.  And, although the name is never directly mentioned, everyone well-knows what store it is, and what event is about to take place: the release of Samsung competitor Apple’s latest and greatest iPhone iteration.

Viewers can see a small group of sidewalk squatters giddily discussing their current Apple technology and that of the phone to come, right before they spy a passerby doing something unique and totally awesome with their own smartphone device.  The only problem is, it’s not an iPhone! 

“What is that!?” they exclaim. “Did you just share a picture by tapping your phones together!?” “Um. . . yeah, this is my Samsung Galaxy S3,” says the guy, exuding utter nonchalance. This guy doesn’t wait in lines for phones, and he doesn’t pine for larger screens or 4G data. He doesn’t worry about connector adapters, and he straight-up doesn’t care, because he doesn’t have to—he just has a great phone without all of the baggage and hype.

He oozes cool. He makes the line squatters question their very allegiance, their fanboy religion, which is now seemingly based on insufficient technology and delayed promises. Another commercial shows a guy sitting IN the iPhone line next to a babbling hipster herd, but he’s holding his Samsung phone. “So, I guess your Samsung didn’t work out for you, huh?” says the v-neck and scarf adorned part-time barista poet, with a smirk (the character portrayal is spot-on). “No, I love my GS3. . . I’m just saving a spot in line for someone.” Well, that someone shows up, and it’s the dude’s parents. HIS PARENTS. We all grow up, but somehow parents are still the antithesis of cool. The commercial drama reflects what, for me, is true in real life—the Apple fad has reached saturation. You’re no longer a member of an edgy cultural subset for having an iPhone, because, well, almost everybody has one—including YOUR PARENTS.

Morgan House, Business Development Associate:  Bud Light

I recently watched a documentary called “Beer Wars.”  It’s about the marketing war fought among the big American brands—Budweiser, Miller, and Coors.  The documentary basically makes the point that the difference in taste among these brands is minimal, so that they really have to establish their market share through advertising and reaching deeper brand connections with beer-drinkers.  In one memorable scene, they show avowed “Bud men” and “Coors men” unable to tell the difference among their favorite beers and those of their competitors.

I think the folks at Anheuser Busch have done the best recent job at making this deeper consumer connection.  Everybody knows the beer companies spend jillions of dollars trying to connect with football fans, and they’ve done a great job with their recent ads centered on superstitious fans. 

Every sport has folks who find themselves driven by a myriad of superstitions.  In a new Bud Light commercial,  a bunch of guys in the sands go quiet and turn their beer labels facing the field for a field goal attempt by their team. One of their friends doesn't understand why, and as he questions the ritual, he is told by his buddies to just do it. The kicker makes the field goal, and the fans all acknowledge their role in the successful kick.  

And the slogan is awesome—“It’s Only Weird If It Doesn’t Work.” This campaign specifically works because it taps into something so common that lies beneath the surface of the more conventional aspects of being a sports fan.  It taps into something that people experience as individuals and together as groups. 

Ty Hagler, Principal: Volkswagen

Perhaps the biggest gamble I’ve seen in recent times by a sizeable brand is Volkswagen’s Fun Theory campaign.  I love it, because it’s quite off-the-wall, and it has seemingly nothing to do with cars.

VW obviously wanted to people to associate its brand with innovation, and to have that innovation tied mentally to driving behaviors that make the world a better place.  So they set up this series of public experiments and tied in a digital campaign centered around a website and video series.

While all of the experiments at changing human behavior through fun activity are rather successful, my particular favorite is the “Piano Steps” experiment.  In this video, commuters coming off the subway in Stockholm face the common choice of escalator versus stairs to ascend to ground level in the city.  Almost no one uses the stairs, even though everyone knows it’s a healthier alternative.

The folks at VW replace the stairs with piano keys—a la Tom Hanks’ 80s movie, Big, and the fun begins. Through the course of the experiment, the steps see a 66% rise in traffic, as most people want to get in on the fun of walking on a giant piano on the way to see the city.

What does all of this say about VW’s cars?  Well, nothing directly communicated that I can think of, but this campaign certainly attaches Volkswagen to multiple positive messages aligned with affecting change in human behavior to make the world a better place.  And it’s better simply because we all take a few minutes to have fun.   If that’s not a deeper connection that almost any brand would want to have with the public, I don’t know a better replacement.