Jim Mitchem is an award winning copywriter and founder of one of the first virtual ad agencies on the planet in smash communications.
A few years back, Home Depot ran a television commercial showing one of their fully decked out 18-wheelers driving along a beautiful country road. A voice over talked about Home Depot’s commitment to communities they serve. As the camera panned out, we saw a crossroad ahead for the semi. It comes to a stop and then its right blinker goes on. As the camera continues to pan out, we see the entire horizon. To the right are clear skies, but to the left – armageddon. The sky is black and crackling with lighting. The clouds are swirling. The truck’s blinker then changes from right to left. The big rig turns and the logo fades up.
Let’s get something straight – television commercials are expensive. Especially ones so well-produced as this. So what’s the point? The point of this ad is to position brand in your mind as a benevolent corporate citizen and its goal is to get you to choose Home Depot over Lowe’s the next time you need lumber or lightbulbs. After all, Home Depot helps communities across America that have been devastated by natural disasters. Right? Do they really go out of their way to donate supplies to people who have been struck with bad weather? Probably. I have no idea. But the fact that you think they do is the most important thing.
Everything is advertising. It’s as simple as that. So whether we like it or not, every time a brand outwardly communicates that they’ve done something good for the community, it crosses over from public relations into advertising.
And it’s ok.
For example, the fact that McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald is the icon for the Ronald McDonald House is advertising. Before you claim that I’ve lost my ethical marbles, hear me out. Yes, we all know about the great things that the Ronald McDonald House does for kids and their families – but, if McDonald’s didn’t care whether they got credit, they’d run these facilities anonymously. Wouldn’t they?
With the advent of social media, it seems that corporate benevolence is more prominent than ever. From Pepsi Refresh to Kohl’s Cares‘, brands everywhere are trying to do well by doing good in this wonderful new age of real time community interaction. Look, I have no doubt that there are people who work at Kohl’s and Pepsi that are incredibly passionate about their respective charitable programs. And I’m sure they’re all really good programs. But in the end, it’s all advertising. Sure, brands care about the causes they support. Of course they do. But the fact that they use commercial mediums to advance these programs makes it advertising. If brands didn’t care about getting credit, they’d do what they do anonymously.
Everything’s advertising. And it’s ok. Let’s just call it what it is.
Jim Mitchem is an award winning copywriter and founder of one of the first virtual ad agencies on the planet in smash communications. He and his wife of 14 years moved to Charlotte in 2000, have two young daughters and a pack of animals. He’s a regular blogger for Advertising Age, the FearLess Cottage and The Good Men Project and is currently helping build Boxman Studios into a nationally recognized leader in mobile hospitality via green innovation. You can find him all the time at ObsessedwithConformity.com.