Top ten ways social media is teaching us to be human again

Simon Mainwaring / Advertising / 9 years ago

This week I spoke at the Cannes International Advertising Festival and one of the things I stressed in my  social media seminar was the fact that “Technology is teaching us to be human again’. The two winners of the Cannes Cyber Grand Prix – the Nike/Livestrong Chalkbot campaign and the VW ‘Fun Theory’ fun campaign – demonstrate the truth of this.

What these two pieces share is the use of technology to connect emotionally with what it means to be human. For its part, the Nike’s Chalkbot enabled cancer sufferers and their family members to send short, heartfelt messages (like the one above) and have them spray painted in chalk on the road in front of the cyclists. What’s more, everyone who contributed a message received back from the brand with a photograph of their message painted on the road.

The power of this exchange cannot be overstated. Here’s why:

1. IT’S PERSONAL: It enabled the very personal (and therefore ultimately universal) emotions of individuals to meet the sweat equity of the athletes head on. That’s a very powerful combination of heart and body in service of the cause and brand.

2. IT’S GIVING: The campaign benefited from free worldwide media exposure directed at the Tour de France that led to donations towards the cause and emotional comfort to other families and individuals touched by cancer.

3. IT’S DIALOGUE: The fact the brand replied to the contributor with a photograph of their message demonstrated that Nike was truly sensitive to their emotions and not merely leveraging them for their own benefit.

4. IT’S CELEBRATORY: The exchange not only demonstrated a true dialogue between brands and consumers, but it shows how a brand can successfully represent itself by amplifying the voice of its community.

5. IT’S DIRECT: Often brands try too hard to find ways to connect with their community. Yet this approach was so simple and recognized that what connects us is not technology but heart. Technology was put in the service of that truth.

The second winner was the VW ‘Fun Theory’ campaign in which interactive sound effects were added to physical environments to encourage healthier behaviors. This too serves as a guide to the many ways technology is allowing us to connect to our shared humanity again.

6. IT’S POSITIVE: The ambition of this campaign was to change behavior for the the better of the people involved. That’s no small task yet it showed what can be achieved when you bring creativity to change.

7. IT’S FUN: Too often brands take themselves too seriously, ignoring the fact that people like to reveal the lighter side of themselves.

8. IT’S UNIVERSAL: The fact that the most popular stunt in the series has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTubes demonstrate how much we have in common.

9. IT’S SIMPLE: Like the Nike Chalkbot work above, this campaign is strikingly simple. Yet for a brand to embrace this idea and execute it, they must recognize the importance of simplicity, human connection and technology in the services of universal values.

10. IT’S UNPREDICTABLE: No one could know what people would do on the musical stairs (below). No one could predict the exact words a daughter would write to her father suffering from cancer for the Nike Chalkbot. There’s inherent risk here and powerful trust in human creativity, honesty and spontaneity.

The fact that these two campaigns were so highly awarded at Cannes bodes well for the traditional advertising industry and proponents of social media. It show creatives working with technologists to foster connection through two polar opposite but equally fundamental emotions – grief and joy. As such these two campaigns are a master class in effective advertising and social media and Nike, VW and the Cannes International Advertising Festival deserve all the credit.

What do you think of the two campaigns? What other campaigns have you seen that connected so emotionally?



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  1. […] find ways to bridge the gap between traditional forms of marketing like print, and newer forms of marketing such as Facebook advertising and geolocation marketing. As part of a marketing team, your job […]

  2. Avatar kat egan says:

    I agree! Let's hope this inspires much more playfulness, personal connection and collaboration in campaigns moving forward.

  3. Thanks, Kat. So good to see you.

  4. Avatar davinabrewer says:

    Simon, It's about removing the distance, those arbitrary walls that divide us. Social media has us tweeting, posting, sharing in open, transparent ways that have changed how .. we perceive advertising differently. The dry, mass media, homogenized messages are not what's reaching people, connecting with consumers. It's the direct, personal, humorous, unpredictable that speaks to us, or at least to me. FWIW.

  5. Great job synthesizing these two truths. I’ve been a huge fan of the Livestrong ideas because they didn’t have to do it the way they did it. They leveraged thoughtfulness and compassion for the greater good and did so to encourage the competitors of the race and the spectators that got to see it from the side lines. As you pointed out, it wasn’t just for Livestrong to gain some recognition as an organization, but it empowered the creativity and ingenuity of their people to build a machine that would raise awareness for real life people dealing with cancer. Very compelling.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts..

  6. Totally agree, Davina and thanks. Yes, its all personal and direct now so many of the broad brush approaches of the past no longer work. It's an exciting time for the ad industry, for sure. Thanks, Simon

  7. I think Social Media has pros and cons. It brings far flung people who would never interact together. And it also increases I feel people who are closer the distance between. Instead of me calling you to see whats up I send a 140 character tweet or a comment on Facebook.

    For brands it allows them to touch customers in unique ways but does not have scale. You can't reach 50 million people via Social like you can with TV. But its not personal! I love the VW campaign. Never saw the Nike one until now. I am a cold blooded Finance guy. So my focus is sales. Things that don't lead to sales are mostly wasted money. Which is between 30-50% of all Ad Spend depending on your views. Think of how many starving kids could be fed on that cash!

    BUT what the Nike and the VW campaigns do is help build good will. And emotionally positive connection. Good will means people more likely to work for your company, and communities more likely to embrace you. Walmart has no good will. In fact most people go because its a cheap place not because the love Walmart. And everyone knows they treat their employees like 3rd world workers. So they get opposition when a store is going to open. Show me one town that is going to oppose a Nike Store or a VW plant or Dealership and that will be the first to me.

    Now while I won't be buying a VW or a Nike product because of the campaigns they build goodwill with me. And I do feel Social enables this in ways that other technologies can not.

  8. Thanks so much and I agree. Goodwill is critical and ultimately leads to profit. WalMart is trying to earn goodwill will its sustainability push but you can't be duplicitous doing questionable things on one hand and good things on another. But ultimately that goodwill can be the difference between what you do or don't buy. Either because you like a brand or your friend does and so you buy it. Competition is so fierce these days brands need to invest in sales, goodwill and counter any negative conversations going on. The financial world is getting involved too especially after the meltdown in '08. These are really interesting marketing times, especially because its forcing brands to treat people like individuals and not just numbers. Thanks for the great feedback. Simon

  9. You're welcome Andrew. You used a powerful word. Compassion. I think that goes to the heart of the smartest brands right now. They think with the heart of everyone involved. It sounds simple but its so difficult to do in business. Thanks for the feedback, Simon

  10. Simon

    You just hit the nail on the head of why Social is very important. You brought up being duplicitous like BP with their green campaign. Social allows the people to keep the companies in check. Think Nestle and Palm Oil. If your being shady don't be in social! LOL

    I have 16 years of sales in B2B all industries except for Mining and Farming (prior to my career change into Adland-MarketingLand). The saying goes when everything is equal, price, product etc people buy from people/companies they like. Why blow that chance for such an edge. Direct sales I can take a client to dinner. Social allows similar connection (not the same as steak and wine but!) with a larger pool of people.

    Cheers Howie

  11. Thanks, Howie. You're so right. be transparent and be liked. And 'fess up if you make a mistake. BP is a master class in mistakes sadly. I think many brands will learn the hard way. thanks, Howie. Simon

  12. Avatar patrickdh says:

    I can relate, share and understand your enthusiasm in Social Media that can contribute to a rebirth of agencies and creating new ways to connect with their clients – “demonstrating real engagement with the marriage of the two”. I mean it would be pretty silly for agencies to now continue ignoring social media especially when that's where the attention (money) is going.

    Let's be real – 'two ads that share the use of technology to connect emotionally with what it means to be human”. With all due respect – it's not Nike, nor CocaCola that's doing that – and certainly not by making an ad or embracing new means of messaging. Advertising should live with the humble role it plays, because it's visibly still a numbers game, but this time around – everybody can play.
    I invite you to check out the Eyewriter project which truly embodies in real life terms the meaning of technology connecting with the meaning of being human. You've probably seen it – but to my mind that's unbeatable Thanks for sharing your experience at Cannes and good luck with the book.

  13. Thanks, Patrick. Wow, the eyewriter project is certainly human connection at a whole other level. And no, I hadn't seen it before so thanks for sharing. Still, in the world of marketing, I believe certain brands are doing a much better job of creating emotional connection than merely bleating about themselves. But yes, these are two different animals altogether. thanks, Simon

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