Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Human Element

In the digital age, the fact that we are human has become a successful brand identity.

The Dow Chemical Company launched "The Human Element" campaign in 2006. Offered up by FCB (now DraftFCB), the campaign "showcases individual human profiles and circumstances to communicate the power of harnessing 'The Human Element' to foster solutions to human problems around the world." []

It's a nice corporate identity piece. Everyone likes the idea of supporting a company 'that really cares'. From a creative perspective, it's a wonderfully dramatic image that quickly links the idea of humanity (the human element) and science (all of Dow's chemicals they want to sell you).

But, take a step back. In a world where a growing number of people won't do something because they can't do it online and would have to talk to someone (yes, this happens all the time in the younger generation), the company just sold you, rather overtly, on the idea of human interaction. 'Hey, we're nice people, buy our stuff'. While they might not practice it any longer, people buy into the idea of old fashioned values and business practices.

And it's not just Dow that capitalizing on a human brand identity. While not all are as overt as Dow, the human element is a reoccurring theme. Take for example the instant classic UPS Whiteboard. The Martin Agency takes lead agency credit for the campaign, the same agency responsible for the 'what can brown do for you?' slogan. The spots sell UPS in a very human way. It's door to door salesman, face to face. They are talking to their audience as people, not just as profit, and it shows.

The next example is an effort from McKinney/Durham for Qwest. The ad was is listed as a "best spot" for November 2006 by AdWeek.

And the list goes on. Apple with 'Mac vs. PC'. Hewlett-Packard with 'The Computer is Personal Again'. Cisco with 'The Human Network". And I am sure there are more.

I don't know if its a pining for the old days, or people searching for a sunny option in an increasingly cloudy world, but whatever it is, being human is hip.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

America Runs on Terrorism

In America's futile effort to wipe out terrorism, we are searching for terrorism in every corner of the country. And apparently this search includes hidden symbols in advertising.

Recently, Dunkin' Donuts pulled one of their national Internet spots because of backlash over a scarf television chef Rachel Ray was wearing while promoting the Massachusetts-based coffee chain.

Apparently the scarf worn above is similar in design to the scarves worn by Muslim men called a kaffiyeh. This scarf, according to those offended by the ad, is often worn by those associated with terrorism. This particular scarf style was probably most notably brought to the world stage by Arafat, seen here:

I could go on a long rant about the public overreaction to the scarf (I mean, if you squint they kind of look similar...), but I will spare you in hopes that your own common sense has already informed you that this whole situation is ridiculous. Instead, let's look at the reaction from Dunkin' Donuts.

According to, Dunkin' pulled the "ad that began appearing online May 7...because 'the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee.'"

From a pure marketing mindset, this was the one and only correct option for Dunkin'. Pull they ad, chalk it up to an accident, reaffirm that it was not done intentionally, and let the issue fade into the ether. There was really no other option. Anything else would have tarnished the Dunkin' brand more than it already has been.

At the same time, I would love to see a major company take the risk and push back against the unfounded obsession both with terrorism and political correctness. While the idea that Dunkin' Donuts is a secret terrorist supporter or, even worse, a hidden cell of terror in America is a fairly interesting and perhaps not impossible conspiracy, it is safe to say that this proposition is most unlikely. Why a major U.S. brand would even attempt to show support for Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism is beyond me. And beyond anyone for that matter. They have nothing to gain.

With that, what do they have to apologize for? When is someone going to stand up for common sense? Dunkin' had every right to continue running the online ad. It's obvious that Dunkin' did not mean this ad to be a shout out to all of their terrorists friends, its supposed to sell coffee.

The sentiment that this whole situation is ridiculous seems to be shared by most, or at least by those I have talked to about it. All advertising is open to being misconstrued, so, if in this particular case, there is a large body of people within Dunkin's target audience that thinks the scarf issue has been blown out of proportion, why not cater to them? Why not leave the ad running and say that the common sense of Americans will overcome whatever misperceptions there are about the ad? Often, we are too quick to concede to the boisterous few while ignoring the silent majority.

Ultimately, the strategy of standing up for common sense is shaky at best. But, it would be fun to watch something like that to play out and common sense is an interesting brand quality.