Great Brands are Bigger than Me

John F. Kennedy at Rice University, 1962 (Courtesy of Reuters)

When JFK said, we were going to go to the moon by the end of the decade back in 1962, it was an audacious claim that inspired a generation and in turn made for a lot of sweat among scientists and engineers.


(see it here: Kennedy’s “Moon Speech”)


Yet without that spark of imagination, there may never have been uttered a, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” The seven long years it took to deliver on that inspired promise, might never have come to fruition were it not for Kennedy’s oration.


Closer to down to earth, and if you've been to New York,  think about the time as a kid when you first saw the Empire State Building. Did you first see it towering above the New York City skyline? Did you look at it from the street level and gaze straight up? How did they do it? You had to go to the top of it too, of course. What was it that compelled you? Maybe you wanted to be inspired too? Why? Because inspiration is a desire for something greater than yourself. It’s bigger than us (in our present state) — it’s what we want to become. It’s what we want to achieve that compels us, and so we keep climbing. For the religious among us, it's HaShem.


Ultimately, it’s our human condition, all of us on this earth, to look up and wonder and in turn, look inward and find the strength to get up, climb, reach and finally, grasp for something bigger.


Marketers have tapped into that same deeper emotional core and occasionally elicited goosebumps—but it’s rare. However, when it does happen, it’s palpable.


Two recent examples come to mind. While comedy is typically king for Super Bowl ads and are all-to-often done for yuks, a few steer a different path. They zag, while all the others zig. They break through and strike a unique chord.


In 2013’s big game, Ram Trucks used the sharp, penetrating narration of Paul Harvey to elicit Americana with an ad simply called “Farmer” and forced viewers to stop in their beer-imbibing, snack-crunching paths to the fridge and pay attention. And you didn’t have to be a farmer to appreciate it.


Farmer ad


More recently, just this year during Super Bowl 50, another commercial did something similar. Called “Portraits”, it connected the iconic Jeep brand with faces of ordinary people, soldiers and celebrities who have or had a connection to the car with stark black and white photos overlaid with a voice-over


Jeep ad


In both instances, it was something about them and among the noise of ads, previously unheard. It was something different and it beckoned us to pause and look over at the screen.


Yes, advertising can inspire. It does this by making the product or service the hero. In my next post, I’ll talk more about what that takes and how it manages to do it.


 Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at