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  • Gina Michnowicz

What Do Circles and Wolves Have in Common?

At the end of May, I spoke at the Incite Group Brand Marketing Summit. I also had the pleasure of having “fireside chats” with chief marketing officers (CMOs) from some of the world’s biggest and most innovative brands, including Jennifer Sey from Levi’s and Mike Linton from Farmers Insurance. 

Today, CMOs have a seat at the big table. And rightly so. They’re responsible for taking care of the brand and how it shows up in market. As Mike pointed out in our discussion at the summit, their purview is expanding. Sometimes they’re also chief customer officer. More often, with data and technology playing a major part in marketing planning and gathering insights, their role is part chief marketing officer and part chief information officer. 

But regardless of how many hats CMOs wear, it’s crucial they don’t ever take off the most important one: the hat of authentic creativity.

That’s not just what I believe, it’s what I heard over and over again during the summit. What keeps brands relevant is an authentic, engaging story.

During my conversation with the Levi’s® CMO, she brought up that Levi’s can talk about touchy subjects in a human way, a way that feels natural. This is because, as Jennifer pointed out, Levi’s is one of the most authentic brands out there. She exemplified this authenticity herself when she admitted that isn’t how it has always been, nor have their sales been as strong as they are today. But the brand is 165 years old. The fact that Levi’s is still relevant today is a testament to not just the product but also the brand’s ability to convey an authentic story with great meaning.

One of my favorite examples that Jennifer presented is the 2017 “Circles” commercial, part of the Live in Levi’s campaign. To date, it has garnered over 25 million views. An astronomical number of those views came in the first couple of days. 

What’s so special about this commercial? It’s a simple concept, but it carries a deeper message. Music and dance bring us together, across all countries and cultures, all walks of life. The commercial connects with us at a human level and makes us feel good. It went viral, but that wasn’t the goal. It was simply the result of successful, joyful storytelling that supported inclusivity in a way that authentically fit their brand. (And while I didn’t ask Jennifer about the commercial’s impact on sales, the first time I watched it, it made me think about purchasing my next pair of Levi’s jeans.) 

Another great example of authentic, engaging storytelling came from another summit speaker, the CMO of Farmers Insurance. Mike talked about leveraging peculiar stories from their employees on the front line with consumers for their “Stranger Claims” campaign. It’s genius, really. Who says insurance can’t be fun? And who would forget a wolf’s eyes gazing at you from the backseat? 

The campaign, which fits within the brand’s long-running Hall of Claims platform, wasn’t only memorable, entertaining, and authentic. It also tapped into the popularity of Stranger Things and the seasonality of Friday the 13th and Halloween. In addition, to make the stories even more intriguing to the audience, the videos each showcased a different style, from an old zombie flick to a Japanese horror movie.

In this day and age, it’s hard to be memorable. Brands try so many things—but what stands out is great storytelling. And great storytelling requires a vision from the CMO. 

Successful CMOs will drive the organization to connect with their consumers. They produce bold, imaginative marketing that takes intelligent risks and drives real results. They develop the initiatives that make their brand a real standout. They focus on the great stories. It’s not an easy task, but we can all take inspiration from Mike Linton and Jennifer Sey.


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