Why Brands Should Stop Yelling

Show, don’t tell.

It’s the golden rule of journalism. Show your audience what happened and what it means, don’t tell them.

It’s a rule that marketers would do well to follow. And with the rise of social media and the web, it’s easier than ever to do it. Show your prospective customers why your product or service will help them, don’t simply tell them it will.

Blog about it, create videos, reports, eBooks and more. Provide value. Share these resources on social media channels. It’s all available to you. There is no barrier to entry and your prospects are primed to engage.

In 2018, you should inform or entertain your customer. Not “sell” to them.

Despite this, brands continue to yell at their customers with TV ads. Think about the recent Dodge Super Bowl ad linking their gas-guzzling vehicle with Martin Luther King and the U.S. civil rights movement.

MLK had a dream. It wasn’t to drive a Dodge.

“Be a good person, buy a Dodge truck,” the ad yelled, using the masterful oratory of Reverend King. They were screaming at you that good people – implicitly, people like Martin Luther King – drive Ram trucks.

But are Ram truck drivers better than the average American? They didn’t show it. Did you have any reason to believe it before the ad? Why would the words of MLK make you believe it?

So it rang hollow. So hollow that it called to mind the equally tone-deaf ad from Pepsi that linked its sugary drink to the Black Lives Matter movement using – wait for it – a Kardashian. Even a casual observer of pop culture knows that the Kardashians are human memes representing vacuousness. It’s a big stretch to get to social justice from the dead eyes of Kendall Jenner.

Even more galling was the fact that Dodge cherry-picked the most innocuous part of King’s speech, conveniently leaving out the part that actually mocked their very purpose. King, in the same speech, also said:

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.

So Dodge spent $5 million to twist the words of MLK and piss off a large chunk of North America.

What could they have done differently? Lots.

First, they would need to find real-world examples of people using their Dodge trucks to make a positive difference in the world. Assuming they exist, it would need to be someone like a food bank worker, a tree planter, a community organizer – someone legitimately using the truck in service to their community.

Then they would need to think about the channel. Although the past few years have seen a rise in socially conscious spots, the best Super Bowl ads are known for being over the top and funny. A serious message is difficult on this platform. Dodge would have been better off going online, with short videos, gifs, blog posts and other ways to more authentically tell the story.

They could have donated the $5 million they spent for airtime to good causes, and then showed what those groups and individuals did to make a difference. But that wouldn’t have been a Super Bowl ad, would it?

It should have been real, not fake, and not so fake as to misappropriate the words of Martin Luther King.

Remember, keep it real. And show, don’t tell.

Allan Gates

Allan Gates is a partner with Bonfire.