Why Red Bull’s Instagram Is Working

Just scrolling will give you an adrenaline rush. Every click will shock and amaze you. Double tapping feels like drinking from the Fountain of Youth.  But that’s not why Digital Information World reported that it’s the most popular F&B brand Instagram account.

With over 16 million followers and an average ER of 20%, Red Bull passes the average brand account engagements by almost 18%.

So how do they do it? 

Similar to trends we see in social and video-form advertising, brands continue to seek less intrusive avenues to persuade consumers. Red Bull follows all the boasted best-practices, but in a natural and truly enticing way.

Instead of asking questions in captions to encourage user responses, they write things worth responding to. Like this video’s caption, for example.

This video received over 500 comments because it encouraged users to tag their friends without telling users to tag their friends. In a way, creating humor with your audience is a way brands can game-ify interactions. While users fight over who’s funnier, or gets the most attention, Red Bull sits back and racks up the ER.

Instead of telling consumers what the brand pillars are, Red Bull celebrates boldness, action and energy with every piece of written and visual communication. They show the brand personality in a creative and compelling way. The videos of bike races, skydiving, and other limit-pushing activities are so gripping and cool that you almost forget this is a branded account. It’s the same reason Netflix and TikTok have been so successful in increasing our screentime – they make us forget we are consuming.

Strong content is just the first step. Red Bull’s social branding is effective because it goes beyond what is needed to be a successful brand instagram. It follows larger communication trends from game-ification, to subliminal branding, to native advertising that keeps consumers engaged longer.

“Best” of the Super Bowl Crowning Criteria

First, we need to agree on what being the “best” means. Popular Super Bowl creative often includes celebrity cameos, new CGI or elaborate and emotional storytelling. Stephan Vogel, Ogilvy & Mather Germany’s chief creative officer says creative advertising works because it “is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.” (Harvard Business Review) I personally don’t think those two ideas necessarily add up to mean the “best”.

While studying creative advertising, I noticed this idealized notion of pure storytelling – that if you tell the story in a poignant way, the ad will be effective. Now, I work in a very hands-on, tactical marketing department – I’ve learned that for creative to work, it needs to build off concrete marketing principles.

Carvana is a great example of a company who did all of that this year.

Carvana told a great story about an oversharer who was really excited about her purchase. She was relatable and funny, but most importantly she drove the messaging home. The character repeated real positioning objectives like “I get seven days to love it, or my money back” and “I thought all online meant no one to help me, but Susan from Carvana had all the answers”. These types of messages are often shied away from on such a high level of advertising. However, repetition of these differentiators drive awareness beyond the general – it allows consumers to remember why they know Carvana. 

The character was earnesty and gave viewers a sense of familiarity. We understood her story through art direction – lives in a suburbia, has an off-beat creative outlet, is a corporate worker, her son gets married and she embarrasses him at work.  It’s the circle of life, all in :30. What builds community better than that?

The spot was one of this year’s crowned “best” because it is emotional, memorable, and tactical. Most pieces miss that third element in place of artistry, but using tools in context to achieve goals can be both imaginative and impactful.

Trend Prediction: Product Placement

As streaming services replace traditional forms of television, people continue to ask what will happen to commercials.  We’ve seen them on Youtube and Hulu, but with the option to skip, this is no way to sustain traditional visual form advertising.

I have seen product placement before (and I did buy the New Coke x Stranger Things collab), but as people become more sensitive to what is being sold to them and more wary of advertisements I believe product placement is becoming more important. 

Once you see it, you can’t help but keep noticing. 

Did you see it on Ted Lasso?

Or on Emily in Paris?

People don’t always get it right . . .

I hope to see this really picking up in the next year or so.  I am excited to watch screenwriters using their characters’ connection to a product to tell us more about that brand. 

The classic example of Elliott leaving a trail of Reese’s Pieces in E.T. allowed kids to connect with the candy so strongly that sales went up between 65% to 85%.  Wouldn’t you want to be as brave and beloved as Elliott?  

It would be on brand for Nike to show us that their sneakers are for the guys like Coach – an average-level athlete and sports fan with great passion.   Maybe KANGOL is highlighting how their berets are unique, spunky, and stylish like Emily.  Peloton commented that Mr. Big may be the correct demographic of a Peloton customer, but that his “lifestyle choices and perhaps even his family history, which often is a significant factor, were the likely cause of his death. Riding his Peloton Bike may have even helped delay his cardiac event,” according to CNN Business. 

While nailing placements presents a new challenge for screenwriters and advertising creatives alike, it is a great way to keep advertising unintrusive to our audiences yet persuasive.

The Best Story Told In Super Bowl 2021 Advertising

Anheuser-Busch’s spot “Let’s Grab A Beer” reached a blissful human truth: sharing a beer is never about the beer.  However, through great writing and production, the ad told us much more than that.  It showed us that we crave each other.  We love our communities, our pasts, our present, our achievements, our losses, and being human.

Throughout the commercial we see varying scenes of human experiences: newlyweds laughing at their disaster wedding, friends comforting each other at a funeral.  Through each of these we see the highs and lows of our existence, but one of my favorite lines is “Flight crew’s next door eating pizza.”  A great example of a six-word-story, and one that tells a bittersweet anecdote.

The stories Anheuser-Busch told were great because they told us they will be there for us when this is all over without saying, “We will be there for you when this is all over.”  We are tired of that messaging, but no one is tired of remembering the best (and worst) parts of communal experiences.  

Maybe this wasn’t the best advertisement of The Big Game, because it did not sell me Anheuser-Busch necessarily.  You barely see any branding in the commercial at all, and the line “it’s never about the beer” doesn’t exactly make you want an Anheuser-Busch beer.  Even so, it was the best story of the night.  As storytellers, we have to remember that insights are the most important part of reaching audiences.  The insight that “It’s about being together” remains true no matter what times we are in. 

Focused Creativity: Does Snapchat Advertising Work?

As a creative advertising student, social campaigns are completely taboo.  Our professors tell us that it’s a careless way to add OOH ideas to your portfolio.  My professor actually told us that Snapchat roll-outs don’t even count as a social leg of a campaign.

Maybe it is not groundbreaking or romantic advertising- but it works.  Not every creative campaign is good because it is new.  There is also value in campaigns with the highest returns.  (Something creatives don’t want to admit to themselves.)

In 2020, the most successful Snapchat advertising was those who used AR to create a try-on feature.  Gucci did it and saw a positive return on ad spend.  It is true that brands have been using AR for try-on features on different digital platforms since 2015, but given the context of this year it is a creative campaign. 

Creative isn’t always original.  It is using tools in context to achieve great things. (Don’t tell any creatives, but that can be sales for your client.) Albert Einstein said: “Creativity is intelligence having fun,” and he was right.

Advertising After 2020

The lifestyle changes that came with an unprecedented year have impacted creative communications from brands.  In March we saw a shift in tone of communications from brands from Toyota to Verizon reminding consumers they care. Over. And over. And over again.  There are some more effective communications that the pandemic popularized that will be more likely to stick around this year.  One in particular that pandemic advertising brought attention to, is Computer Generated Imagery commercials.  When shooting commercials with a cast seemed impossible, many brands used animation and CGI to develop meaningful communications in safe ways.  

Škoda finished this ad with CGI when production studios shut down in March.  The ad features sets and cars completely computer animated.  Sky Q also relied on computer animation to create a campaign with only one actor.  This five-part saga shows consumers the joy of a young boy imagining his favorite characters living in his city.

CGI can thrive in 2021 as a cost-effective content development tool, but with CGI creating stock photos, videos, and even virtual influencers – where is there room for creatives in the long run?  In order to keep CGI, along with all the other futuristic technologies once thought to be fantasy, there will need to be a shift in where we see creatives contributing.

If they are not needed to design characters or showcase products, creatives will always be needed to tell the story can be.  At this stage, CGI needs a lot of guidance to work successfully.  Unchecked, CGI is seen as unsettling and odd.  This digital recreation of Rita Ora was slammed by consumers, and actually went viral for being so creepy.  

CGI videos and influencers are not independent – yet.  Human motifs and individual idiosyncrasies of language are not understood by technology.  As creatives, it is our job to bridge that gap.  In order to do that, we need to be asking the questions that get us to the next steps of CGI creative development.  

This is where insight research comes into play.  Creative people need to be in the rooms where technology is being developed.  We need to be looking for what human truths are driving technology further and where growth is needed.  Moving forward – we may see the need for creative departments in more fields.  Progress will only make creative advertising more challenging if insight research is not present at every step of development.  For creativity to work well, it needs to be everywhere.

Christmas Means Coca-Cola

Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like the first sighting of the Santa cheersing to you through the shine of a Coca-Cola Christmas truck.  Every season fans anticipate the latest Coca-Cola Christmas commercial wondering: What will they do this year?

I remember when I first learned that the advertising legends working for Coca-Cola reimagined our modern idea of Santa Claus to align with the brand.  That’s when I realized there is no Christmas without Coca-Cola.  Here are some “Coke-mas” commercials that I love:

  1. Arctic Beach Party (2006)

The polar bears are cute, but what is special about this commercial is the hidden traditions.  While it is modern and uses cutting edge CGI for its time, the ad evokes 100 year old Coca-Cola messages.  

In 1932 Coca-Cola launched the “Ice Cold Sunshine” campaign because they wanted to popularize the beverage as a summer drink.  Before this, they were primarily thought of as a warm drink.  This campaign was the first time customers saw Coca-Cola on ice.  

Today, that message is so ingrained in the branding that we can feasibly see polar bears living off of it.  It is an example of a campaign that was not successful because it improved sales, and increased brand awareness – it permanently changed the American perception of a product for the better.

2. Christmas Wishes for Santa (1986)

Creatively, this TV spot from 1986 did not make major strides.  It is pretty common to get an emotional ad during Christmas time.  The reason this ad is special is because it puts Coca-Cola at the heart of Christmas traditions. 

Every child and parent gets a warm feeling from this commercial.  That might make them buy a Coke but, they definitely associated their Christmas delight with the brand.

  1. Give Something Only You Can Give (2020)

The best part about this ad, is that it showed us how hard this year was, without saying this year was hard.  Wieden+Kennedy London and Taika Waititi used a fathers long journey to the North Pole to represent the tumultuous year we have all had.

The tagline,  “Together Tastes Better” perfectly encapsulated the lesson we have all learned best this year: Time is Precious. The father in the story was able to give his daughter time with him for Christmas.  Thanks to a little Coke-mas magic, Santa was able to deliver the gift of togetherness on his iconic 18-wheeler.

The Luxury of Rejection

Luxury is relative.  It is a person’s idea of more than enough, something to strive for but something not expected.  I recently chatted with a friend about her father’s perception of meat at the breakfast table.  Growing up, meat was special and having meat in the morning was a treat.  Now, he gives his family meat with every breakfast to celebrate that he has normalized this luxury.  When the children do not want meat upon waking up, he becomes upset.  He tells them to be grateful they can have meat for breakfast, and to celebrate their good fortune.  The kids eat the meat, reluctantly and without celebration.  Meat in the morning is standard, it is not a treat and it is not coveted.  The children are so fortunate, that they can reject this luxury.

Social media is villainized by many people.  Complaints that people are too addicted, or that they rely on social media are commonplace.  Still, sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are successful in keeping users addicted. They do what they can with updates and additives to convince you to use the app more, to keep you obsessed and slaving over your screen.

Tik Tok has over 800 million active users – anyone who is anyone uses it.  People laugh over their “addictions” to Tik Tok.  Tik Tok does not need to work any harder to keep users on their app for entire days, people already do that.  Actually, Tik Tok wants users to use the app less:


Pause your scrolling. Time for a night time snack break!

♬ original sound – TikTok Tips

Tik Tok has reached the ultimate standing as a social media platform.  There is no competing with them, they have user attention and they don’t covet other sites’ active user numbers, they don’t aspire to be more like other sites.  They don’t want to eat meat for breakfast anymore.

Art In Nature

I recently remembered this out of home advertisement by Cramer-Krasselt for Corona Beer.  Luna Corona watches over a dark Manhattan night.  If you look at the ad at just the right moment, it looks like a half-moon fits perfectly where a lime would.  

It takes great imagination to use the moon as a tool to sell an advertisement.  I love how they used the natural world to highlight the cultural world Corona lives in. 

 It would be interesting to see how much further Cramer-Krasselt could have gone with this campaign.  Though I did not see any other communications about this campaign, one idea is a digital leg where customers Tweet a picture of the moon shaped like a lime and win a Corona.

Elevating Spam

For most students of creativity, the dream is to sell America’s favorite products.  We strive to write taglines like “Have a Coke and a Smile” or “America Runs On Dunkin.”  But the truth is, while those are the hardest jobs to get, they involve the least consumer conversion. Who doesn’t love Coca-Cola and Donuts? The hardest thing for an advertiser to do is to convince the buyer to change their attitude about a product.

Spiced Ham… Special American Processed Meat…  How did SPAM become an American staple? I wanted to find out.

I looked back on the history of the SPAM brand. SPAM represented American cuisine during WWII and was sent overseas for GI’s.  A few years later SPAM rebranded as a “SPAM-dandy” breakfast to be eaten with eggs. In the 1990’s it became widely popular in Hawaii, and was a way to put Polynesian foods on the table in a budget-conscious way.  SPAM has consistently been the food for the real Americans.   It’s not 9-5ers it’s the real majority of 8-6 and 7-7ers. It’s special, American meat for the unspecial American.   

The brand sparked my interest over the last few weeks over a social media campaign. I was impressed by Instagram ads of recipes that looked so delicious that I was shocked to find out they included Spam. Eventually I started to see recipes for SPAM poke bowls and SPAM pizza trickling into the feeds of food bloggers, both sponsored and unsponsored.  This was one of the clearest ways I’ve ever seen digital marketing working. 

Watching this digital marketing work in a real way was so compelling that I wanted to try it myself.  Not only because I like to reward good marketing whenever I see it, but also because I needed to see this thing in action. 

Following Spam’s recipe, I made my own version of SPAM Musubi.  It tasted “SPAM-tastic,” like the Instagram ads told me it would, and made you feel like you were eating something more special than canned meat.  (Less Special American Processed Meat, more “Sizzle, Pork, and Mmm.”)  The campaign changed my mind about SPAM brand. SPAM is the pulse of a happy family that values cultivating joy at the dinner table.

The way I see it, SPAM Brand understands America’s most beautifully unpretentious citizens, and finds ways to elevate people while staying true to itself.  It is celebrated in a way that no other American classic ever could.

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