Occasionally I see this commercial on TV for a credit union. It tries to be hip and edgy in a Poochie the Dog sort of way in a sad, desperate attempt to stand out and seem relevant, yet ironically I couldn’t tell you the name of the company if you held a gun to my head. The commercial starts off with a guy taking off his suit jacket and tie and talking about how this credit union is different because it’s so hip and casual–so casual that its employees just have to wear a button-up shirt and slacks instead of a full suit and tie. Now that is casual!
The man then hops on a Segway and rides it roughly ten feet while explaining all of the awesome benefits to joining this exTREEEEEEMEly cool credit union. He then gets off the Segway and is about to enter the credit union before he turns around, smirks, and adds, “We even blog.”
You are kidding me, credit union. You mean to tell me that you blog? I thought that was just something cool kids did on their LiveJournal or MySpace profiles! How did a stuffy, fuddyduddy credit union schmooze its way to the popular kids’ table and manage to start a blog, which is clearly only something supremely awesome and super fun companies are allowed to do? At this breakneck rate of technological adoption, I’ll be blown away by the credit union’s Twitter account five years from now!
All kidding aside, no. Just no. This is fucking embarrassing, credit union. If I had an account with you I’d close it out of sympathy shame. You think you’re so casual with your tie-less business attire and the fact that you ride a Segway and blog, two pop culture references that haven’t seemed innovative for at least a decade?
I know who to blame for this: Old Spice. Ever since Isaiah Mustafa very suavely pitched the company’s products in a classy-yet-humorous way, various brands have scrambled to copy the ads’ tone and have failed miserably. The only thing the copycat ads accomplish is a) Making you feel embarrassed for these companies for having a profound lack of imagination, and b) Getting you to realize how good the Old Spice ads were. The only copycat exception I can think of is the Dollar Shave Club ad, which emulated the fast-paced absurdity of Old Spice quite successfully. But for the most part the brands that saw what Old Spice did, laughed, and exclaimed to their marketing team, “Hurr durr this is a funny and successful ad campaign. Do exactly this for our brand!” crash and burn in a spectacularly cringe-inducing manner.
Which brings me back to this crappy credit union’s commercial. My biggest gripe with the ad isn’t that it’s a failed poor man’s poor man’s Old Spice commercial, it’s that it feels like watching your dad awkwardly try to rock out to popular music with his hat turned backwards and flashing the peace sign because he’s confusing it with the “Westsiiiiiide” gesture. This Old Spice-type brand persona doesn’t fit for a credit union. It could, much how Geico manages to successfully churn out odd and amusing ads for something as mundane as auto insurance, but it doesn’t, mainly because this credit union is trying to copy a completely different industry’s ad campaign without understanding why it worked in the first place. If your goal is simply “Do what they did because it worked for them” without understanding what elements made the campaign so successful, you’re deaf to the giant WHOOSHing sound of the point flying far above your head.
You absolutely can find inspiration from various sources–you don’t have to just scrutinize your competitors in order to determine how to make your company better. Oftentimes you can be motivated in other ways, like, say from a men’s line of fragrances and skin products. However, you can’t just take a success story and shove it in your employees’ faces while barking, “This worked for them so make it work for us.” Have some fucking common sense–“Facebook has a ‘poke’ feature so we should, too” should make you roll your eyes and echo the lecturing tone you heard from your parents when you were a kid: “Well, if Facebook jumped off a cliff, would you?”
Is humor an appropriate tone for your brand? If so, what kind of humor can you use and how can you incorporate it in a way that makes sense? Do you really need all those social media sharing widgets on your site if you specialize in funeral services, or are you just thinking you need them because “They’re popular with the kids nowadays”? Excitedly wanting to copy a successful element of a popular brand or website is like buying a Saint Bernard because they look cool without thinking about the fact that you live in a studio apartment on the 30th floor of a high-rise in a major metropolitan area.
Think this shit through; don’t just react when you see something cool and blindly try to copy it. Don’t be the out-of-touch credit union that’s trying to Poochie the Dog some business from you. If you don’t understand the “how’s” and “why’s” behind a company’s success, you’ll just end up embarrassing yourself and failing miserably when you try to do the exact same thing.