Sep 27

Can Millennials Find Truth in Advertising?

Tagged in: Everything Talks
Posted by: Steve Wehrenberg | Comment (0)

Editor’s note:  this is transcribed from Steve Wehrenberg’s keynote address delivered to marketing/business professors at the Marketing Management Association fall conference.


WehrenbergThank you for the kind introduction. It’s really quite an honor to be among fellow educators. 

Last fall, my alma mater, Augsburg College, asked me to take part in their executive speaker series.  They wanted me to talk about advertising and ethical accountability. And I was to give my speech in their chapel.

So I came up with what I thought was an appropriate title for the setting:  Can You Find Truth in Advertising? 

Can Millennials Find Truth in Advertising? 
(Click to view slides that accompany this narrative.)

But you’ve been discussing Millennials this week. So I’m also going to address the question:  Can Millennials Find Truth in Advertising?

The irony in all of this was what Augsburg had embossed on my diploma 34 years ago:  Through Truth to Freedom.  A powerful thought.  A spiritual message.  An ethical promise.  Through Truth to Freedom.

Shaped by that mantra, I chose a career in one of the least trusted, least respected and most questionably ethical professions in America:  Advertising.

Here’s how the public views my industry:

  • Untrustworthy.  Nearly one-third of people don’t trust information in the ads we create.  Within that group, millennials are about average.
  • Unethical.  We’re viewed as manipulative hucksters, especially by women.  (No doubt Man Men hasn’t helped.)
  • And we dont get much respect.  Advertising practitioners rate in the very lowest tier of professionals based on our honesty and ethical standards, lumped in with businessmen in general.   (I went back and checked; there was no ranking for college educators.)

“So Steve, how would you like to give a speech in a chapel at your alma mater about finding truth in advertising?”


Let’s examine truth.  This how good Lutherans might define it:  truth (n.) 1. fidelity, constancy; 2. sincerity in action, character and utterance, 3. fact.

But in the real world, the world of business, the world of politics and the world of advertising, the truth is much, much more complex.

  1. 1. First, the truth is often amorphous. 

Take a look at this clip from a top-rated cable TV show The Closer.  The detective lieutenant is about to be deposed and asks his boss for advice. [Video clip includes this dialogue: “What are we going to say in those depositions?”  “Just the truth?”  “The truth, yes; but first, shouldn’t we all agree as to what that is?”]

The truth is often grey when we’d like it to be black or white.

  1. 2. Second, the Truth is intensely personal

As Buddha said: “Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”

One person’s truth is another’s lie. 

We like to play a game at our All Hands meetings when we introduce new leaders:  Two Truths and a Lie.  So let’s put your judgment to the test.

Indicate by show of hands when you can spot the Lie about my alma mater Augsburg College in the following list of statements: 

  1. 1. Augsburg is the largest Lutheran college in the country
  2. 2. Most Augsburg students are Lutheran
  3. 3. Augsburg is one of the most ethnically diverse colleges in the state

Those of you who guessed that number two is the lie are correct.  Augsburg IS the largest Lutheran college in the country, but only 24 percent of its students are Lutheran. Regarding ethnic diversity, 31 percent of day college students and 40 percent of incoming freshmen are people of color.

Think about how your own impressions and associations of Augsburg influenced your thinking about the truths about Augsburg.

And because truth is personal, truth can be reframed.

We can reframe things ourselves, not based on how the objective world influences us, but by how we represent and interpret the outside world. Here’s an example found in our nearby suburbs:

“Executive Home” -- A sign of status to the suburban, overachiever.  But the same home can be reframed as “McMansion,” a sign of gluttony, tackiness and overconsumption.

The difficulty, then, is that we often think that we are being objective about how we interpret the world in order to understand the truth, when we really aren’t.

So given how tricky truth is, as a concept, “Can You Find Truth in Advertising?”

My answer, after 30 years in the business, is YES.  Yes, you can find truth in advertising.  Because, in advertising, and especially with Millennials, nothing works better than the truth.



Let me lay out my thesis: There are three ways to find truth in advertising:

  • - Myths: Brands live in the world of myths, which are universal truths. Myths are truths we often use to redefine our identity.  They work for Millennials, but in surprising ways. 
  • - Insights: In advertising, the most effective creative strategies and work are often based on new insights, which are really fresh takes on the truth. But with Millennials, insights must be authentic.
  • - Ethics: Most important, ethics are sticking to the truth, even if it costs you money. To appeal to Millennials, brands need strong ethics, and, a strong sense of purpose.  


  1. 1. MYTHS

The truths advertising often seeks to tap are found in those dreams, passions, values and beliefs that swirl around in our collective subconscious:  Myths.  That swirlorama is real to us.

Brands, which are the associations and perceptions in people’s hearts and minds, can tap these myths, or universal truths, as archetypes, to tell their stories.  Archetypes are found in religion, literature and even films.

Here’s a grid with axes reflecting our higher order needs of “stability versus change” and “belonging versus independence.”  We’ve plotted signature archetypes along with Minnesota colleges and universities against the grid.  You might think about where your institution lies.

Notice how Archetypes can work as psychological magnets, pushing and pulling us toward these higher order needs.  Archetypes work like an identity myth, tapping into a hidden desire and helping a brand tell a compelling story.

The University of Minnesota, for example, where I teach, has been redefining its story from that of the largest Minnesota institution of higher learning to an organization that leads in research and innovation:  Driven to Discover.  It’s moving from the Ruler archetype to the Explorer.

In the late ‘80s we created a simple, compelling story around the Explorer Archetype for Yuppie baby boomers, who were starting to feel like they’d sold out a bit too much.

This TV spot created whole new category of cars, the Sports Utility Vehicle. [Video plays: Jeep “Row Row Row Your Boat” spot.]

But what’s today’s Millennial Auto Explorer Archetype? I would conjecture: the ZipCar.

Millennials’ identities are more fulfilled through access than ownership.  Car sales among Millennials  have plummeted for a bunch of economic reasons.  But another reason is the emergence of the Sharing Economy or Collaborative Consumption.

We did some proprietary research last year about this trend.  This chart outlines our findings, demonstrating that when Rational Benefits (Me) meet Emotional Benefits (We), brands like ZipCar win.

Hence, Zip Car is their new auto Explorer archetype, while giving them accessibility over ownership.


  1. 2. INSIGHTS

Another kind of advertising truth is based on consumer insights. 

As Galileo put it, “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

An insight is often a human truth hiding in plain sight.

One of our industry’s most profound and famous insights was about how people use milk.  It goes with food—brownies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and chocolate chip cookies.  And if you think about running out of milk at the wrong time, it’s traumatic.

This TV spot became a powerful metaphor for “Don’t Let This Happen to You” and drove a resurgence in milk sales. [Video plays: classic “Got Milk?” spot.]

We needed an insight like that to help sell Land O Lakes® Butter to Millennial Moms, who don’t embrace its heritage the way Baby Boomers do. 

Millennials respond to authenticity.  And their enjoyment of food comes not only from its taste but knowledge.

So we supported Land O Lakes Butter positioning of “simple goodness” through a story about how it comes from Family Farms.  And we delivered the first ever all-digital campaign for a brand we helped build over the past 80 years primarily through magazine advertising.

The banner and rich media effort drove millennial moms to landing pages where they could get recipes and get to know real farm families. The results delivered a significant impact with a limited budget: a 15 percent increase in sales, with more than 200 percent return on the advertising  investment.

We applied this Millennial insight about food authenticity to our new client, Popeyes.

Here’s a crazy new effort designed to unveil the hidden truth about how competitors’ chicken tenders go directly from freezer to fryer.  [Video plays: “Freezer to Fryer” Vote Handcrafted spot.]

With a series of web videos, we’re attempting to create shared content and earned media impressions for our Handcrafted Tenders promotion. 

  1. 3. ETHICS

One of our former CEOs worked for the Nixon administration.  He often would attribute the quote “Sometimes you’ve got to lie for a higher truth” to H. R. Haldeman, a former Madison Avenue ad guy and chief of staff to President Nixon.  It reflected the administration’s ethics — it’s o.k. to lie for a higher truth. 

Millennials can sniff that out like blood hounds.  When they do they can quickly become brand haters in the social space. 

So brands and marketers who push, bend or obfuscate the truth do so at their own peril.

Millennials, in fact, have high levels of engagement with causes and seek out brands with ethics. 

Brands like our client Chipotle have found out that ethics and truth of purpose sell. Chipotle ties all of its marketing activities to a clearly defined brand purpose:  Food With Integrity. To founder Steve Els, this is about “finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the farmers and the environment.”

If you watched the Grammys last March, you may have seen the first ever 2-minute commercial we placed for them featuring Willie Nelson singing Cold Play’s “The Scientist.”  And here’s a short video that highlights an award-winning program our media team developed to engage Millennials for Chipotle:  The Junk Free Lunch. [Video plays:  Junk Free Lunch case study.]

On hundred years ago, H.K. McCann linked Truth to everything that matters in our business, by placing the phrase “Truth Well Told” on their company seal.  And, McCann, the largest global ad firm and the parent division of the publicly traded Interpublic Group, which owns Campbell Mithun, still does today.

So, fellow educators, you can find truth in advertising.  Because, in advertising, and especially when targeting Millennials, nothing works better than the truth.

Sep 13

Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen launches series of “Vote Handcrafted” YouTube debate videos

Tagged in: News Releases
Posted by: Kristine Olson | Comment (0)

 Digital AOR Campbell Mithun created video series and Facebook app to end freezer-to-fryer chicken mediocrity  

Popeyes LogoATLANTA (September 13, 2012) – With the 2012 election season heating up, Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen and its digital AOR Campbell Mithun have launched a series of “Vote Handcrafted” videos in a campaign to end freezer-to-fryer chicken mediocrity. The video series depicts “Handcrafted Debates” -- between candidate Handcrafted Tender and his freezer-to-fryer chicken-strip opponent -- about topics which so far have included an introductory “attack ad,” “The Economy,” “Global Warming” and, just released, “Meet the Running Mates” (which introduces us to six bold signature dipping sauces).

A “Get out the Vote” Facebook app encourages sharing/liking of the videos and offers chicken lovers opportunities to win one of hundreds of weekly prizes, such as free chicken coupons or free T-shirts, or even a grand prize trip to New Orleans. Popeyes is tapping the election rhetoric to challenge consumers to “Vote with your mouth!” to prove that Handcrafted Tenders taste better than the pressed, molded, freezer-to-fryer alternatives.

“Many chicken tenders are formed and pressed in a factory and then thrown straight from the freezer into the fryer at the restaurant. At Popeyes, we refuse to take these kinds of shortcuts,” said Hector Munoz, vice president of Marketing at Popeyes. “These Handcrafted Debates celebrate, in a humorous and memorable way, the time and attention we put into preparing our tenders, that’s central to our Louisiana-style home cooking.”

“This election season offers perfect timing to get vocal in support of Popeyes Handcrafted Chicken Tenders,” said Heath Rudduck, chief creative officer at Campbell Mithun. “They're the real-deal and the greatest chicken-tender candidate in the known universe.”

A new Handcrafted Debate video will debut at regular intervals through November 2012, creating a series of approximately ten spots. Forthcoming topics facing Handcrafted Tender and his opponent include: “Experience,” “Being Handcrafted” and “Closing Arguments,” among others.

Gaining Digital Traction

Additional digital work developed for Popeyes by Campbell Mithun includes the “Mood Wing” and “Rip’n Chick’n” programs to support Popeyes’ May and June limited time offerings, as well as a redesign of to enhance navigation and organization, increase messaging capacity, identify Popeyes’ strong social media presence, and integrate content from sites serving investors and employees.

Digital efforts are paying off for the brand, whose customers are very active in the social media space:  the Mood Wing app increased Popeyes’ Social Engagement Score by 48 percent and contributed to a 71 percent increase in traffic to from social sites; the Rip’n Chick’n bookmarklet was downloaded by nearly 10,000 users, produced more than 100,000 page views and contributed to Popeyes’ second highest month ever for website traffic.

About Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen (NASDAQ: AFCE)

Founded in 1972 in New Orleans, Popeyes is a leader in the New Orleans segment of the foodservice industry and is the world's second largest quick-service chicken concept based on the number of units. As of July 8, 2012, Popeyes had 2,049 restaurants operating in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Cayman Islands and 25 foreign countries. For more information, visit the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Web site at

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