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Human-Centered Marketing Takes Center Stage at 2019 ANA Conference

Written by: Stacey Schulman | October 9, 2019

For several years, Katz Media Group has been pointing to localism as the next big counter-cultural trend.  As consumer fatigue mounts with the demands of maintaining digital lives and unease grows with the manifestations of artificial intelligence, it was only a matter of time before people started sparking to goods and services that represent a return to the authentic, the organic and, yes, the "human" experience.  And as distrust mounts in the burgeoning era of "deep fakes," seeing isn't even believing anymore.  This exponentially increases the value of first-hand, experiential moments  - something local communities - and the radio and TV stations that serve them - do best. 

So it was no surprise this year at the Association of National Advertisers' annual Masters of Marketing Conference to hear about how humans have now taken center stage in marketing strategy -- and, tangentially, how the values of local communities are being extolled by national brands.  Here are several great examples from ANA's conference this year where marketers are building their brands with human and community-centered appeals.  

target logo redTARGET CIRCLE

It's no secret that brick-and-mortar retailers have been struggling to compete with the utility, variety and instant gratification of online shopping.  Target CMO, Rick Gomez, took the ANA crowd through his brand's journey to revitalize after a tough 2016.  The retailer doubled-down on its investments in stores, technology, private label brands and unique approaches to personally connecting with consumers, including their revitalized loyalty program, the community-centered "Target Circle."  With the free program, shoppers earn 1% on every purchase to redeem on a future Target trip, get personalized offers like a birthday discount of 5% and can cast votes to help direct Target’s giving to approximately 800 nonprofit organizations.  It's this last bit that is the most intriguing piece - helping their shoppers not only receive personal rewards, but also to vote for non-profit projects that benefit local neighborhoods and solidify the retailers' presence in the community in a meaningful way.  Most interesting in this presentation was how Gomez described the launch of the retailer's downtown NYC store which began badly with a mis-appropriation of beloved lower-east side NYC landmarks with the big box store -- a perfect example of how "localizing" goes wrong when marketers don't work hand-in-hand with locals to get it right.  Have a look at how Target is promoting the now nationwide availability of the Target Circle loyalty program:



When Disney's EVP of Global Marketing and Sales, Jill Estorino, took the ANA stage, conference goers couldn't help but choke back the tears at the heartwarming TV spot featuring a young duckling and a global brand promise - Disney is all about experiential storytelling with heart.  The one-hour presentation spotlighting the mouse house's prowess in establishing emotional connections and "brand crave", also dropped some astonishing statistics on the crowd that were both virtual and physical -- Disney is simultaneously Instagram's #1 place on earth (virtual) and one-half of ALL Make-A-Wish experiences granted have been for visits to Disney parks (physical).  That's a lot of brand resonance no matter how you slice it. 

Pertinent to our interest, however, was Estorino's discussion of the design and launch of Disneyland's Shanghai park.  Touted as "authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese," the park had been designed from the start to weave local Chinese cultural cues into its global character narratives.  The "glocalization" strategy  has been the subject of multiple case studies exploring best practices for exporting American brands -- a particularly salient topic in a country like China which is highly sensitive to cultural imperialism.  In the end, the park has succeeded in adopting culturally relevant cuisine and Mandarin signage, while dropping distinctive "American" elements like "Main Street, USA" and the "Toy Soldier Parachute Drop" with those green army men.   Ironically, while cultural sensitivities are appreciated, for those who have never visited the United States, the park is seen as an opportunity to get a taste of something that is still considered to be quintessentially "American."  


Chipotle has rallied impressively since its last food safety scare in 2016.  The brand arguably had a lot of ground to regain, but hitching its star to the concept of "real" allowed natural opportunities (no pun intended) to draft off of cultural moments with real people (their employees) and real ingredients (not polysyllabic chemicals).  Conceptually, "real" is a concept with great resonance in a time where authenticity and trust are under attack.  Chipotle released a series of spots that featured their employees (and their back stories), but the cleverest creative execution came from interviewing kids competing at the national spelling bee...   Have a look:



In a world where communication is becoming more about shorthand than exposition, Dunkin' Donuts shortened its name -- DUNKIN' -- and turned its content marketing into long form, human stories that elevate the neighborhood value of the brand.   In an online series the marketer dubs "DUNKIN' DOCS,"  heartwarming stories of Dunkin' employees, customers and the depth of neighborhood connections are on display.  Dunkin's CMO, Tony Weisman, explained to the ANA audience that the coffee maker's brand promise is to "refill optimism," a concept echoed on the DUNKIN DOCS website, "Here at Dunkin’ we believe that positivity is in demand, and that is why each Dunkin’ Doc is created and designed to share and spread a little optimism. These aren’t just significant stories for Dunkin’ to tell as a brand, they are important stories for today."  They also happen to highlight the franchisees.  Each of the segments feature stories about how Dunkin' has uniquely impacted people's lives.  Honestly, we found these mini-documentaries to not only be well-done, but unique in how the series captures the role of the local Dunkin' franchise in everyday lives.



If you're like most Americans, you may be a little suspicious of a bank that only exists online.  That's the stated challenge for online banker, Ally.  So how does a product with no specifically local presence engender brand love?  They dial up service and give back.  Creative agency, Anomaly, launched a campaign for the online banker geared toward user ratings and its high customer marks.  The effort is working as the brand valuation has nearly doubled in the past year.  Like Target, the brand is also focused on "giving back" to ensure those consistent consumer reviews.  The brand's "Banksgiving" campaign - also released as longer form video in their content marketing efforts - documents a pretty nice holiday for some of its customers as the bank gives back thousands of dollars to help its customers fulfill passions, re-connect with loved ones or help their communities.



Sometimes it's the little things.  As Pearle Vision's CMO analyzed the brand's positioning in a category that had become about price and offers, he reached back into the brand's neighborhood roots with Dr. Stanley Pearle, the optical chain's local founder.  Differentiating the brand was as simple as getting back to the core proposition of delivering quality eye "care" -- a distinctly human appeal.  The brand does this brilliantly and with great community warmth in the campaign that delivers high marks on human appeal.  Spoiler alert.  This one's a bit of a tear-jerker:

It is very encouraging to see major marketers turning toward more distinctly human and neighborhood appeals in their creative -- and it would be even better if the media spend got more local too. Making local communities a part of an advertising campaign bears fruit - and there's plenty of data to support it.  Obviously, the best way to connect with local consumers is to be a part of their everyday lives in the media they turn to and rely on everyday - local TV and radio stations!