Advertising with a moral compass. Exploitation or doing the right thing?
August 20, 2008
“When it’s people doing the right thing, they call it responsibility. When it’s an insurance company, they call it Liberty Mutual. Responsibility. What’s your policy?”
And so goes the copy in this feel-good campaign for Liberty Mutual done by Hill Holiday in Boston. The films show real people stopping what they’re doing in order to help others, one after another. Contributing to the good karma in our universe. Paying it forward, as it were. While this is hardly a new idea in our culture (the Judea-Christian belief system is based on it), it is striking sentiment for communications from a large multi-national. Let me rephrase that: Lot’s of companies talk about what nice companies they are but few endorse human kindness as an operating principle. Either way, the key to this thing working is whether consumers buy into it. If Joe America believes insurance companies are a soul-crushing matrix of liars and paperwork, he is not apt to appreciate the “do unto others” approach. Or, and this is what the marketing team at Liberty Mutual undoubtedly hopes, upon receiving these heartwarming messages, Joe America will soften to the company like cold butter on a hot muffin.
Either way, I admire this creative. By going back to biblical pretext (do unto others, etc), LM has actually modernized the rhetoric. “Like a good neighbor,” is an overt claim about State Farm’s personnel, as is the “Good Hands People” for Allstate. The LM films depict a succession of civilians doing good deeds without selfish motives. Which leads to more good karma and, well, the world gets better. By calling this behavior “responsibility” Liberty Mutual suffuses their strategy with a moral imperative. I’m curious what others think about this move. Are you impressed by it…or depressed?
Interestingly enough, in my new novel, The Happy Soul Industry God solicits an advertising agency to come up with concepts for marketing Heaven or, as the angelic brand manager in the story puts it: “goodness in all of its forms.” Kind of like the LM brief, isn’t it? In my book, “How are you?” becomes the organizing principle in a new campaign for Heaven. If people are honest in their answers, they realize something is missing in their lives and that something is God.
Examine the “How Are You?” blog at Happy Soul’s website. People are willing to unburden themselves online. To be rigorously honest. Maybe people are just as open to helping others as well, and not just friends and family. But “Everyone!” as Bono often exhorts in his famously uplifting concerts. Taken further, maybe we are all looking for a higher power (of our understanding) to help us on a daily basis. Could we, as a society, be dusting off our moral compasses? The Liberty Mutual campaign suggests as much. The Hill Holiday planner clearly saw something happening in the culture, to the consumer, which could alter the category. Paying it forward became a creative strategy.
There’s a great saying in recovery houses: If you want to improve your self-esteem, do estimable things. That’s what Liberty Mutual is telling to “do” in their commercials. Is that an appropriate strategy? A bigger question: If the quest for spirituality is becoming a strategic platform for advertisers is that exploitation or an example of doing the next right thing?