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5 Awareness Campaigns That Got The Art of War Right


Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is chock-full of brilliant insights. (So much so, I feel like it should be a required read for every marketer, entrepreneur and business person.) And while we, thankfully, don’t have to stand on the frontline of an actual war each day, we are immersed in a form of war. We fight for attention. We fight to be remembered. We fight to break through the noise. We fight to not only make people give a damn, but to give enough of a damn they take action and do something.

A tidbit of wisdom from The Art of War…

“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” 

A couple days ago, I clicked a video that popped into my Facebook feed. With the flurry of pre-Super Bowl ads floating around, I assumed it was another pre-release for SB XLIX. (I was wrong.) Upon hitting play, the spot led me down a familiar path. Then along came the thunderbolt.

Not only did this PSA get the fight right, they even followed another of Tzu’s tenets:

“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”

Some of Us called PepsiCo to the floor, leading them right to the only open escape hatch. They’ve been called out. Now if they want a way out, they’ll have to change their ways. 

Here are a few other examples of PSAs that got the thunderbolt right…

(Warning: Trigger alerts.) 

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CASE STUDY: Kmart "Ship My Pants"

kmart ship my pants I am one of those people who only watches the Super Bowl for the commercials. Perhaps it's a result of my aversion to professional football, but I prefer to think it's inspired by my curiosity about the marketing industry.

I don't throw the word "epic" around very often, but last night I stumbled across what I feel comfortable calling an epic triumph in advertising. A commercial so great, in fact, that I watched it about twelve times...and laughed during each rolling of the tape.

If you haven't seen Kmart's new "Ship my Pants" spot...brace yourself. (Thoughts continue after the leap...)

As one YouTuber put it, "this is a commercial that appeals to the 12-year-old inside of all of us." As the commercial, which has been live for less than two weeks, nears 15 million views, I'd say that's a lot of inner 12-year-olds. Beyond the potty humor, the spot was a genius move for several reasons...

  • It's talkable. Admittedly, it's not exactly high-brow humor, but the spot uses just enough shock factor to strike that sweet spot where amused meets aghast. When this happens, it gets people talking and sharing. In an age where everyone hits the fast forward on the DVR, you've done something right when 15 million people have made an effort to track your spot down so they can share it with their friends and watch it over and over again. 
  • It  targets a new demographic. Traditionally regarded as the retailer of choice for grannies and cat ladies, this spot was a ballsy way to break the schema associated with Kmart. By breaking through the clutter with messaging that is totally out of character, the brand has tapped into the minds (and mouths) of a new, younger demographic. (Or as Dr. Jonah Berger eloquently puts it in his book Contagious, top of mind = tip of tongue.)
  • It launches the brand into a new space. As a bricks-and-mortar store, Kmart has no doubt been impacted by the changing retail landscape. Sure, they have a website, but when it comes to online ordering, it's hard to compete with amazon. At the core, the spot drives home a clear message, flipping the proverbial bird to Amazon and giving their shipping policy a run for its money.

While a tv spot can't save the world, I can't help but wonder if taking a messaging risk can ignite a turnaround for a brand many consider(ed) to be on their way out. I'm curious to see what the future of Kmart's messaging has in store for us. In the meantime, I'll be here giggling away every time that lady enthusiastically whispers, "I just shipped my drawers!"