While it could be a rough sprint to the end of 2020, one thing is for certain: we’re almost there! 

This week I wanted to focus on brands that are taking chances. As you’ll see if you keep reading, I mean that in the broadest sense of the word. Knowing how hard it is to get clients to push outside their safe zones, I’m always in awe of companies committed to taking that risk and trying something a little different. If it works, then you get noticed in a big way.

Land Rover – “Unstoppable”

I have our resident Brit, Justin Hills, to thank for this James Bond-themed selection featuring Land Rover’s new Defender. At first glance, you think you know what this is: it’s another movie tie-in that uses big-budget Hollywood blockbusters to push a product. But in this case, you’re only half right.

Why it matters:  The first thing that struck me when watching this was that the pandemic completely messed up Land Rover’s marketing window as the new James Bond movie, “No Time To Die” has been pushed (once again) to April 2021. They clearly spent a ton of money but aren’t getting the expected halo effect of drafting off the massive Hollywood hype machine and the expectation that a large portion of the movie-going world would be seeing their new vehicle saving the world…again.

But once I quickly got past that snarky reaction, I realized something much more surprising was going on here. Can anyone remember another high-end car commercial where they pushed the car to its limits so that we actually got to see it take damage and keep moving? In the world of luxury automotive advertising, you never see the car looking anything but beautiful and badass.  Yet there’s something glorious about (as one Hollywood writer said to describe Indiana Jones) ‘seeing your hero fail heroically.’ It makes you connect with them in a powerful way so that you end up rooting for them even more.

The details: According to No Time To Die’s Stunt Coordinator, Lee Morrison, “…we pushed the Defender further than we believed possible to generate the maximum excitement, and to give fans an insight into the uncompromising challenge of producing an incredible chase sequence which you can look forward to seeing in No Time To Die.” The key stunt driver in these scenes is race car driver Jessica Hawkins, hand-picked for the job after Lee saw her competing in Formula 3W. I also understand that they used 10 Defenders in the creation of this scene. How many do you think they used to attempt that final corkscrew stunt?

Root Insurance – “Bubba Wallace: Progress Owes No Apology”

Next up is a very different interpretation of a brand taking chances and pushing the boundaries.

Why it matters: Whether or not you’ve heard of Root Insurance, you’ve certainly heard about the controversy surrounding NASCAR’s only black driver, Bubba Wallace, and his effort to ban the Confederate flag from the sport. And that is what is at the center of this no-holds-barred, adrenaline-fueled spot. It’s got all the bells and whistles of the sport: high-octane machines, RPM’s revving and flawless pit crews defying time, but all of this is just the wrapper around the more important message driving this spot: Bubba Wallace has taken a stand for what he believes in and through his force of will, has helped change the sport for the better.

The main tension in the spot is generated from sound bites ripped from news headlines, interposed with graphic imagery that you’d never expect to see in a major brand spot. Bubba Wallace took the fight to NASCAR and his determination to change what was an accepted practice is a cause that Root Insurance is boldly championing.

The details: Why would an insurance company want to take on such a controversial topic?  According to the chief brand officer for Root Insurance, Kelly Ruoff, this spot is aimed at an audience they define “as socially aware and culturally connected—people who make purchasing decisions based on an alignment of values and will reward a brand for doing the right thing. The goal here was to tell Wallace’s story with a wider audience and show the brand’s support of him in the process.” Director Wesley Walker, a Black-Latino American, says the film seeks to convey “truth, meaning and positivity. What people do not know is what it feels like experientially to walk this path, and what it takes to stand for what is right against such intense resistance.” Powerful stuff!

Amazon – “The Show Must Go On”

Swinging the pendulum to the opposite end, Amazon uses a very personal story to energize the “hope” in all of us.

Why it matters: Amazon has chosen to put out a brand building holiday message that has very little to do with any of their products or services so that they could focus on the one thing all of us could use a lot more of right now: hope. This singular story is all too familiar to most of us: starting in a pre-COVID timeline and seeing the impact of the shutdown on someone’s dream. The storyline focuses on a very personal moment for an aspiring ballerina. Through the superb filmmaking and acting, they buckle you in for an emotional rollercoaster. But that’s just the setup; the real story here is one of ingenuity, of people coming together and the ability for all of us to re-envision a goal in a new way that fits our current reality. I don’t know about you, but I got the feels in a major way.

The details: According to Simon Morris, VP of global creative at Amazon, “Our TV ad is inspired by, and pays tribute to, the unbeatable human spirit and the power of community that we have witnessed so often this year.” 

The film features French ballet dancer, Taïs Vinolo. “When I was growing up in the French countryside,” she says “there were no young black girls studying ballet with hair like mine, or even on TV, meaning I had no one to identify myself with.” Finally, for all you Queen fans, the ad features a unique arrangement of the band’s song “The Show Must Go On.”