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In the paper, The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care and What You Can Do About It, author Thales S. Teixeira points out that consumers are becoming blind and deaf to traditional advertising channels. The paper, released by Harvard Business School, points out, ‘Attention is a necessary ingredient for effective advertising.’

But how do you, whether you’re an entrepreneur working on a new startup or the owner of an established brand, stand out? Today’s consumers are busy, and they have a million and one things competing for their attention. How do you break through?

As we’ll see, many brands, both old and new, have managed it by being intentionally different—by taking pains to differentiate themselves from their competition. These companies have created ads that focus on telling brand stories. In so doing, they have run some of the most profitable advertising campaigns of the year.

Let’s take a look.

Think Outside The Box

The following brands reached new heights of success by reaching out to consumers in new, alluring ways, employing unconventional advertising methodologies.

While the advice to think outside the box is now a cliché, it’s still worth taking to heart. Do what your competitors are afraid, or are unable, to do. Swerve when they break.

Please click on the thumbnail images below to watch the videos.


In a world awash in ‘fake news’ and political turmoil, journalism is more important than ever. Yet many major newspapers are still struggling. The New York Times is fighting back with its ‘The Truth is Hard To Find’ campaign.

It’s a simple campaign that nevertheless manages to convey the importance of quality journalism. The campaign, made up of a print ad with a corresponding video ad, features photographers and journalists describing what they went through to get a particular photo or story. It hits home, and it hits hard, forcing consumers to realize that real journalism entails real dangers. It reminds us of all of the great lengths that journalists go to get the real story.

One of the ads features photojournalist Bryan Denton. Denton was attached to a convoy patrolling Mosul, in Northern Iraq. The convoy had already been the target of three would-be suicide bombers, each hurtling across the desert in vehicles—each intent to kill or be killed. All were sent by ISIS. The fourth barreled toward the convoy at an alarming speed and was 70 feet from Denton when he saw it.

The ad is a stirring and stark reminder of the need for journalism with integrity, and it hit its mark.


It’s the music-as-a-service platform. It survived when the Grooveshark got tanked. It outperformed Rhapsody. One of the reasons for its meteoric rise is its simple interface. Another is its low-cost premium service. But it is the innovative advertising campaigns that set it apart.

Recently, Spotify hired ad agency Wieden + Kennedy to create a campaign that would resonate with millennials and Generation Y. What sets this campaign apart, however, is its resourcefulness. While Wieden + Kennedy oversaw asset creation for the ads, Spotify dug into their user data to find trends based on playlists.

The data crunchers at Spotify were looking for anything that stood out as being ‘obscure, funny or weird.’

The company did something similar in 2016, when it used user data to create memorable, massive billboard ads poking fun at people sometimes odd tastes in music.

This time, the company created a series of video ads featuring DNCE, D.R.A.M and other popular artists. The bands spent time on camera reflecting on how their work ended up in playlists with names like, “Play This At My Funeral.” This particular ad sparked a meme that made the Web rounds throughout 2018.

When an ad campaign results in a meme—an image, GIF or video circulated on social media—you know it’s touched a nerve with millennials.

The lesson? Simple ideas can yield big results. Don’t try to be cool, just be cool.

Another concept that’s all the rage with millennials is virtual reality—in particular, the practical, ready-to-use application of said technology. Augmented reality will soon change the way we see and interact with the world. It has the potential to revolutionize the way we train our doctors, soldiers, and firefighters. It can help professionals get more done, and it can help people overcome their fears or address past trauma.

IKEA, the popular ready-to-assemble furniture retailer, has tapped into the eagerness to use this technology with their app, IKEA Place.

The app adds an augmented reality overlay that allows users to see how a particular piece of furniture would look in their space—without ever leaving their home.

While this isn’t an example of direct advertising, it is a stellar example of creating branded experiences. When consumers are using this cool tech, they’re interacting with the IKEA brand. This makes them likely to tell their friends about the app, and in order to do so, they’ll have to mention the IKEA brand in the process.

It’s worth considering, too, that a direct advertising campaign would have ongoing costs associated with it, while an app has a one-time cost. Even factoring in the on-going cost of maintaining the app, they’re likely profiting on this move in the long run as they are building considerable brand awareness with a demographic that is coming into their own buying power.

While the app has a practical purpose, it’s also used for fun. Users can place virtual couches on city streets or on top of buildings. This fun aspect gives the app a bit of a social life, which gets the IKEA brand into places—and minds—it may otherwise have problems slipping into.


MailChimp, the content marketing platform with the oddball name, embraced its oddness in its recent ‘Did You Mean MailChimp?’ campaign.

The campaign, which poked fun at the brand itself, consisted of several parody videos playing off of people’s common mispronunciations of the brand name. One of the short films, Kale Limp, features a dog made entirely of kale. Odd? Yes. Effective messaging? Yes.

The short films, songs, and other media MailChimp created for the campaign all lead back to their website, and the high-quality content was shared virally on social media.

This is another example of a company successfully connecting to a new demographic.

Leverage The Growing Behemoth That is Instagram

Instagram, acquired by Facebook in 2012, is a popular video and photo sharing platform.

Popular users can amass immense and engaged followings, and those power users, or influencers, can become powerful brand ambassadors—for a price.

Sponsored content on Instagram can prove extremely effective because you can meet a potential customer while their guard is down. Sponsored Instagram posts to give you an ‘in.’

Please click on the thumbnail images below to watch the videos.


Adidas Neo, the brand’s new division of attire for youth, gained traction in 2018 with its Instagram campaign. The campaign didn’t feature Adidas employees or paid actors. Instead, it was run by social media ambassadors and fans of the brand using the hashtag #MyNeoShoot.

By getting out of the way and letting social media influencers—already avid fans of the brand—take the reins, Adidas gave their product room to speak for itself. Young consumers could see social media influencers using the products as they’re intended to be used—on the court, the field or in the gym.

Potential customers weren’t watching a commercial, they were seeing a product demonstration done by someone they trust.


Airbnb, an innovative and sometimes controversial online hospitality marketplace, gained massive brand exposure by creating a number of sponsored posts with Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and other A-list celebrities.

The campaign ran on Instagram and was embraced enthusiastically by fans. Granted, such a campaign was no doubt expensive, but this sort of long-term campaigning can reap huge dividends down the line.

By making this investment now, they cement their place as the premier brand in the hospitality marketplace.


Red Bull provides us with a good example of how to capitalize on an upcoming event. The Bonnaroo Music Festival, which starts on June 13th, 2019, is highly anticipated. As such, it has its own trending hashtags on social media.

By partnering with influencers to create branded content for Instagram, Red Bull has leveraged that social juice to its own advantage. The sponsored content furthers their narrative that their product goes hand in hand with high octane sporting events, concerts, and other events.


What to do when your brand is ubiquitous, but you offer an array of services that not all your customers know about?

Amazon offers:

  • Amazon Prime
  • Amazon Unlimited
  • Amazon Music
    • Amazon Games
    • Amazon Art
    • Amazon Drive
    • Amazon Studios

…And more.

The solution for Amazon was to create sponsored content on Instagram by reaching out to social media influencers. For instance, a popular artist on Instagram is likely to have followers who are into art. It’s only logical for Amazon to partner with such an influencer to create sponsored content for Amazon Art.

In this way, the company creates targeted campaigns for its myriad services.


British Airways, Quantas and Alaska Air have all partnered with social influencers on Instagram. This sponsored content allows these companies to build brand awareness in fresh, new ways.

When you offer a product that is much the same as what everyone else in your space offers, it helps to stand out. It’s those brands that go the extra mile who will be remembered by busy millennials.


In a similar vein, American Express is hoping to stand out from other financial service corporations by partnering with influencers. By tying their Platinum card to influencers who travel frequently, they associate their service with fun experiences.


Brands with age-sensitive products, such as Heineken, Beck’s and New Amsterdam are taking advantage of Instagram and its influencers with smart, targeted advertising campaigns.

Influencers in the fine alcohol space are likely to have a core audience consisting of older, quality-hungry alcohol connoisseurs. Consequently, partnering with these savvy consumers puts Heineken and similar brands in the perfect position to pitch their new products.

Greet Them Where They Are

With so many consumers tuning out, it’s crucial that you go to them. Meet them when they’re in a headspace that is conducive to your messaging. This is easier than ever with today’s online advertising platforms, but you still need to be flexible in your approach.

Please click on the thumbnail images below to watch the videos.


In times of economic rallying, the armed forces tend to see a sharp decline in recruitment rates. In fact, in 2018, the U.S. fell thousands short of its recruitment goal. This marks the first sharp decrease in recruitment since the height of the Iraqi conflict, almost 14 years ago.

The U.S. Navy saw a similar decline in recruitment rates, even after spending up to 70 percent of its advertising budget on TV and radio ads. This year, it has announced that it is moving away from this old approach. Instead, it will be spending up to 70 percent of its marketing budget on online ads.

The Navy, and other branches of the armed forces hopes to reach millennials where they are, and they hope to speak to them in a language they respond to.

The decision to spend less on TV spots and much more on online content came after a small, but very successful experiment on YouTube. The experiment took a multi-directional approach, targeting topics and channels that would appeal broadly to young people who might be interested in joining the Navy.

The Navy, after doing its homework, found that people open to the idea of joining the navy liked:

  • Music
  • Mixed martial arts
  • Cooking

..and many other topics.

WPP’s The Navy Partnership, which creates assets for Navy recruitment campaigns, then created custom digital advertisements. These ads, 60 in all, were either 15 or 6 seconds in length. All featured the tagline, ‘Forged By The Sea.’

Using YouTube’s robust advertising platform, they displayed the ads in a particular order, ensuring that each viewer saw more than one.

After crunching the numbers, The Navy Partnership found that people who saw the ads two or more times were 15% more likely to consider acquiring recruitment materials from the U.S Navy. Moreover, users who saw the ads at least twice were some 19 percent more likely to search for U.S Navy-related keywords on Google.

These percentages may seem small, but once applied to a nationwide scale, the results are huge.

One of the campaign’s biggest goals was to demonstrate to millennials the many job opportunities the Navy offers. This goal was met in part by the 60 made-for-digital ads. Unlike previous YouTube ads run by the Navy, these short ads were skippable. The Navy was relying on the power of storytelling, music, and drama to grab the user’s attention and hold it.

Leveraging their legacy as a branch of the U.S. armed forces, the Navy has also found success by tapping into the popular podcasting space, advertising on relevant podcasts. These short advertisements typically depend on emotional storytelling to grip a potential recruit.

While the Navy is still in a fierce battle for recruits, things are looking up.

By moving away from non-skippable ads to a more flexible campaign featuring made-for-digital video, The Navy Partnership was able to grab the user’s attention. They moved away from being an interruption to offering engaging content.

Remember: millennials are always sifting through information. Many of them hop from topic to topic when engaging in social media. This is why the six-second bumper ad can be so effective. You can make a strong impression.

Creating short ads that are also engaging is difficult, to be sure. But the effort can pay huge dividends. You may even see consumers spreading your content for you for free.

To achieve this lofty goal, the Navy greeted consumers where they were. Music lovers saw navy-themed content centered on music. Survival and camping enthusiasts saw content that spoke to them. You get the idea.

By meeting the consumer halfway, the Navy met with lower resistance.

Align Your Advertising with Your Brand Story

When attempting to reach today’s jaded and ad-soaked market, it’s crucial to offer advertising that aligns with your values. Ads that appear genuine will get you further than ads that exist for no other than reason than to be simply ads. Your brand story is the real hero!

Please click on the thumbnail images below to watch the videos.

ANCESTRY is a privately held company that helps users track their family history, or genealogy. In a new advertising initiative, the company is reaching out to younger users by helping them connect to significant events from history.

In December of 2018, Ancestry invited six strangers to tour the city of Brooklyn. The idea was that these six individuals would receive an interactive, real-time history lesson—a far cry from the company’s normal modus operandi of providing information through their online portal.

What the six strangers didn’t know was that they were all connected one to another—through the underground railroad. The campaign, and resulting documentary, known as Railroad Ties, follow the six strangers as they learn about their ancestors, who were all involved, or benefited directly from the underground railroad.

The core idea of the campaign is that knowing our histories gives our own lives more meaning, and it just so happens to align nicely with Ancestry’s overall value proposition.

Katherine Dore, executive producer of branded content at SundanceTV, was moved by the campaign and has secured the rights to broadcast the documentary.

Taking the cynical view, we can call this smart advertising in action. After all, despite the very real, very raw emotional undertones, at the end of the day, the documentary is a vehicle to spread awareness of the Ancestry brand.

Shift Brand Perception In Your Favor

Even if you offer amazing service at a fair price, that’s no guarantee that consumers will embrace your brand. Sadly, it’s not enough to be one of the best. If you have an image problem, you’ll have to address it head-on.

Please click on the thumbnail images below to watch the videos.

Caesar’s Palace is a mainstay in Las Vegas, as parent company Caesars Entertainment well knows. But the gaming corporation also knew that just because people know about your brand doesn’t mean they’ll ever become paying customers. How people see your brand matters too.

So while Caesar’s Palace has a high level of brand awareness, having been featured in popular movies and TV shows for decades, it had a bit of an image problem.

How did Caesar Entertainment tackle this?

First, they set about major renovations, modernizing many of their suits. Next, they re-evaluated their entertainment options and modernized there, too. Finally, they created a truly innovative video ad campaign that told their brand story while striving to connect with younger consumers.

The result?

Caesars Entertainment saw a 15 percent increase in brand favorability in 2018 as well as a 200 percent in search lift—as revealed by Google Consumer Surveys and User Explorer.

The company did this primarily by aligning their brand with consumer passion points. Their new ads weren’t just promoting their hotels or other services, they were an attempt to make a real connection with potential customers. The ad campaign focused on the following points:

  • Food
  • Travel
  • Sports
  • Music

The ads told a story, showcasing all the things that customers could do at Caesar’s Palace that could make their travels better. The ads were not focused on features but were instead focused on benefits.

I hope this concise guide has given you some ideas on how you can employ these customer-friendly advertising techniques in your own ads. What savvy millennial-friendly ad techniques have you noticed?

Let me know in the comments section below.

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & CEO of SpellBrand. Since 1998, Mash has helped conscious brands differentiate themselves and AWAKEN through Brand Strategy and Brand Identity Design. Schedule a Brand Strategy Video Call with Mash.