When over 100 million people shush each other and edge up on their seats during commercial breaks on Superbowl Sunday, they will expect to be entertained. Anything less than a guffaw or awe will be disappointing.
There's one ad I will be eagerly waiting to gauge audience reactions toward: Colgate's #EveryDropCounts commercial, which will ask tooth brushers to conserve water by turning the faucet off while brushing. There's nothing groundbreaking about this tip—I think my grandmother told me about it when I was six—but it is awe-worthy that Colgate is spending an estimated $5 million to not introduce a dazzling new feature or product line, like many of it's fellow advertisers in the biggest of all mass-marketing venues.
Leveraging a Mass Audience to Resonate with Niche Group
As Seth Godin says in his book We Are All Weird: The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal, “mass is dead” and we are increasingly breaking off into smaller tribes with unique attitudes and needs. While ravenous conservation enthusiasts are growing in number, they are still a small tribe. Let's call them “Tree Huggers.” Many Tree Huggers believe conservation should be shouted from rooftops. While Colgate's ad may fall flat with the majority of this mass audience, which finds other issues more pressing, it will likely strike a chord with those Tree Huggers who want sustainability and conservation to be a mass concern.
Using a Malleable Brand Positioning to Convey Authenticity
Altruistic Superbowl ads have been done before—think last year's Bank of America (RED) and Chevrolet's World Cancer Society spots—but something separates Colgate's #everydropcounts commercial: relevance to brand position. I've not been involved in developing any of these brands' positions. However, Colgate appears to have very adeptly formed a brand position around caring that can be flexed to be believably-on-brand whether they are promoting teeth care, providing your family with care, or urging you to care for the planet.
Moving Beyond Portfolio Management to Address Sustainability Niche
I'd bet many Tree Huggers are brushing with Tom's of Maine, rather than Colgate. This is likely the reason why Colgate-Palmolive owns Tom's of Maine, as a way to reach the natural and sustainable tribe. Now, Colgate-Palmolive is using its “mass” brand, Colgate, to speak the language of a niche group. Could this signify the emergence (or help create) a cross-category table stakes of sustainability? Will a brand's minimum right to play in a category go beyond only addressing a minimal category need (i.e., cleaning teeth for toothpaste, transportation for automobiles), but also include being made and used in a way that does not harm the environment?
Establishing a New Kind of Green Leadership
While it may not do it overtly, Colgate's ad will undoubtedly do many of the things other brands aim to do with their Superbowl commercials: increase brand familiarity and build/reinforce their brand positioning. On top of that, Colgate is establishing itself as a new type conservation leader. I've previously observed two types:
For a “mass” commodity-producing brand like Colgate to step up and try to push a niche concern onto the masses, even in a tiny dose, is groundbreaking. And it's not just a “hey, we make green products to fit your green needs”, it's “hey, we want you to change your behavior.” Wow.