Commentary

Doers Do-Off: Chevron Outflanks Advil And People Magazine

Nowadays I almost pity brand marketers. In response to this Orlando/Syria/police shootings/shootings of police/Zika/Brexit/Trump/superhot temperatures/Prince/Bowie year of discontent, they’ve had to recalibrate their approach and/or pull back their programming on far too regular a basis. Heaven forbid they forget to shush a prescheduled Tweet during an Internet firestorm. They can’t win, but they have to keep playing. They’re like a self-aware version of the New York Knicks.

As a result of all this, a single safe route has presented itself. It’s one in which marketers canvas the country for a very specific type of individual, then introduce him or her as if they’ve happened upon a future Nobel finalist. Indeed: brand marketers have taken to strip-mining the land for inspiring people and their stories, those that can be presented during the best and worst of times.

Starbucks introduced viewers to a worldly breed of do-gooder that the company calls “Upstanders.” Triscuit showered attention upon earth-loving artisans under its “Made For More” banner. Marketers associated with the summer Olympics presented an artificially dramatic series of encounters between inspiration- inspiring inspira-bots. It’s almost enough to make a video-watcher-type-person yearn for a return to the days of glib, juvenile idiocy. Almost.

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Now we’ve got two more programs that play off that same basic conceit: noble doers doing stuff. “Doers” is the actual descriptive word that the three brands, Chevron (solo) and Advil and People magazine (in concert), have happened upon. I can only imagine the intellectual rigor applied to the production of such a catchy title: “Yeah, what makes these individuals so inspiring is that they’ve had hard lives but they still, like, DO stuff. We should call them… DOERS.” “Right on, Angelica! Timmy, find me 20 diphtheretic orphans who subscribe to the National Small Business Association e-newsletter!”

Which is my long way of saying: I’ve got juuuuuust a few teensy-weensy problems with the Advil/People magazine collaboration that birthed “American Doers,” a series which debuted last month. The title tells you all you need to know about the premise, which may prompt inspiration-glutted content mongers from clicking/swiping in the first place. But the clips somehow come across even hackier.

In the first “American Doers” volley, we’re introduced to Shareena, a woman who survived a rough childhood and now peddles treats in and around New York City. I like Shareena. She seems smart and kind. Her concoctions, one of which she describes as “almond-based, with, like, a little bit of orange citrus, vanilla,” sound like fine fodder for consumption between breakfast and brunch.

Unfortunately, “American Doers” tasks an empathy sponge named James Marshall with telling Shareena’s story. His questions start low and end lower: “What would you say to that four-year-old you?,” “Can you show me where you actually sell your cookies?” He asks them wearing a standard-grade compassionate-interviewer face, which makes him look like he’s in the throes of passing a kidney stone.

Not surprisingly, Marshall is fantastically impressed by Shareena. “She’s out there day in and day out, hustling to sell to local businesses,” he says with great feeling, inadvertently relegating Shareena to the same bucket as thousands of other small-business owners. But wait - “she does everything, from baking the cookies and designing the packaging to managing the website and personally delivering each and every order.” No, actually, most every small-business owner in the history of small business, on this planet and every other, similarly involves herself in every aspect of her operation.

(Separately, why do roughly 72.5 percent of all follow-your-heart-and-your-bliss brand videos feature a protagonist who leaves his/her previous professional life to start a bakery? Why can’t marketers feature a would-be penguin fertility specialist, say, or a marijuana dispensary entrepreneur? You want some attention, set your next inspirathon in a marijuana dispensary. The founding of such an operation would seem to require the same ingenuity and confidence it takes to start any new business, but adds the wrinkle of semi-licit activity. Enough with the damn bakeries. The world does not lack for linzer tortes.)

Marshall also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as witnessed by the following rhetorical flourish: “What I really love about America is that you’re prepared to work really hard if you can take a little risk, if you can fall over and get right back up again, you have a genuine opportunity to realize your dream.” Okay there, Horatio Alger. Also: What?

I like Chevron’s doers-doing-stuff approach far more. In the less involved but infinitely more brand-simpatico “Doers Doing More,” the energy behemoth rips through a kind of domestic-energy-production highlight reel. Instead of inspiring us with the heartfelt commitment of its steelworkers and geologists and executives, the clip affects a tone that’s close to smug: “Hey, we’re smarter now than we used to be, and smarter than you in any event.”

We meet “Barry” for about 1.5 seconds and “Head Honcho Doer” for even less. Neither alludes to an incident from his past that set him on the path to emotional salvation via enhanced energy efficiency.

In other words, Chevron doesn’t attempt to make us feel, man. Rather, its central message is “we are doers and doers get shit done.” That’s an oddly comforting rallying cry - and, in years good and bad, certainly beats I WILL INSPIRE YOU WITH RUTABAGA COBBLER. No more businesspeople with back stories, please.
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