Finding the Bright Spots in 2016
Fellow etymology nerds will appreciate this one. The month of January was named so as Roman Emperor Julius Caesar (creator of the eponymous Julian Calendar) sought to honor the gods. He did so by naming the month after Janus, the double-faced god of doors and gates, and more to the point, endings and beginnings.
The end of 2016 draws nigh, to the admitted relief of many for whom world tragedies, deaths of notable celebrities and political enmity have all proven to be too much to handle in a mere 365 days’ time. But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were many bright spots.
In July, scientists announced the discovery of the gene responsible for the degenerative disease ALS. The announcement came two years after the viral Ice Bucket Challenge that raised more than $100 million in just eight weeks. Chicago celebrated the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. And Elon Musk announced a bold endeavor to put humans on Mars as soon as 2020.
Marketing had its fair share of moments worth celebrating as well. Salt producer Morton pulled out all the stops to create the immersive Walk Her Walk campaign aimed at helping community-based non-profits. Morton’s creative work included a beautiful website, a branded Snapchat filter and a spectacular music video in partnership with treadmill virtuosos OK Go.
Earlier in the year, Audi debuted a truly touching commercial entitled Commander. Originally an homage to David Bowie and a powerful reminder of a time when America looked to the stars in awe, the commercial stands as hauntingly prescient. Watching it now, in the wake of the passing of John Glenn, it is hard not to be moved. Even when considering the ultimate goal is to entice people into buying a luxury sedan, the art shines through; a brilliant work.
AdWeek lauded Audi’s creativity in 2016, choosing the far more lighthearted, if still intense, Duel, for number two on its list of the year’s best ads. The number one pick? Under Armour’s Rule Yourself: Michael Phelps. AdWeek’s own review put it best: “The finished spot was astonishing, using darkness to paradoxically shed new light on one of the planet's biggest stars.” Given the context, the ad can be seen as a metaphor for how brands can use the shadows of this year to illuminate 2017.
For one, marketers must empathize with popular sentiment. Failing to acknowledge the heaviness of 2016 and diving right into happy-go-lucky messaging could come off as tone deaf. Next year, it will be important to not only recognize, but also provide some measure of hope; something to look forward to. As Audi’s Commander demonstrates, sometimes when people need a pick-me-up, a little nostalgia can go a long way.2017
While appealing to sentimentality will work in 2017, marketers should also actively contribute to mapping the future. Here, the imagination can wander, leaving behind harsh reality for thoughts of what might be. Giving audiences an escape encourages them associate brands with feelings of excitement and optimism. The adventurous can attempt to marry nostalgia with futurism as Microsoft expertly demonstrated in its 2016 Surface Studio commercial. For, as Janus looks both backward and forward, so too must marketers remember the past even as they light the path of things to come.