So, I was one of those people who didn’t know what they wanted to do when they grew up. At one time, I wanted to join the Marines. Later, I thought I would enter a seminary. Neither of those things happened. When I got to college, I must have explored nearly a dozen majors—English, Political Science, Education, Psychology, you name it. I was all over campus, not to mention all over the map.
Eventually, through the help of a friend from the dorm, I stumbled into business school and the marketing program. I realized I was intrigued by the way brands communicate with people and a career in marketing, advertising and customer insights was born. However, when I look back, I also realize I had probably been interested in marketing at an early age because I enjoyed some of the ads.
Growing up, when I watched TV with my dad, it was mostly sports and we definitely watched our fair share of football. So, in honor of football season getting underway, here are three throwback ads that stuck with me.
USF&G: Standing Behind Me
This company ran ads during college football a bunch during the 1980’s and even were the title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl game for about an eight-year run. As a young viewer, I didn’t have to worry about insuring a house or car or much at all really. Still, in this ad, the message about a company that offered protection still come through loud and clear. I’m not sure if they achieved a ton of differentiation from the other leading insurance brands of that era but even if they were just hitting on the basic category benefits, they did it in a way that was believable to me. They were a big corporation but they come across as kind, and caring and trustworthy…some pretty powerful and emotional notes, jingle or otherwise.
Dean Witter: One Investor at a Time
I doubt I realized at the time that this ad’s “old time” footage was probably fabricated to only look like it was dated and historical. Still, it clearly conveyed that this company had been around and seemingly wasn’t going anywhere. That’s reassuring when you’re thinking about investing your money. Much like USF&G, I really didn’t have assets to invest. I was worried about what snack Mom was going to put in my lunchbox, not how I was going to plan for retirement. That was part of the magic of this spot though—it almost subconsciously made me want to be the kind of person who had their financial act together. The advertising planted an aspirational seed in my young mind…that successful people are smart with their money, and some of those people are wise to tap Dean Witter as their partner in the journey.
Chevrolet: Like a Rock
When it comes to music, I am a bit of an old soul. I like Van Morrison, ELO, Gordon Lightfoot, Waylon Jennings and Jim Croce. It also means I am often being among the younger fans at shows like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and, yes, one of my favorites—Bob freaking Seger. Despite being from the motor city, Seger apparently wasn’t interested in the song being used in the ads at first. After it tested well and he realized, it could help his hometown automaker and their workers, he later gave the okay and I’m sure made a boatload of cash too. Chevy used the song for more than a decade so there are numerous variations of it but this ad was one of the earlier ones in 1992. The VO is woven in so it isn’t on top of the lyrics, but it also struck me how they just let the instrumental parts of the song do some heavy lifting, a soaring anthem behind triumphant images of Chevy trucks hauling loads, barreling through mud, and even being used by first responders. The ad’s impact on me might have been heightened by my own environment; at that time, we were living in a blue-collar town in upstate Arizona. None of the guys at my high school talked about getting their first car; it was their first truck. Speaking of high school, in talking about the song, Seger noted how being a high school athlete helped give him a sense of tenacity, which comes through vividly in the lyrics. Highbrow intellectual types might find it a little much but this ad and the rest in this series sold a lot of trucks for Chevy.