There was a beautiful ad campaign being broadcast across the television airwaves this winter. With panoramic views of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties set to delicate music that swells at just the right moment, these ads make you feel proud to be an American. Images of kids playing baseball, waitresses at neighborhood diners and even a pretty redhead with a horse flash by as the narrator intones:
“We unite the country’s coasts. We connect its people—and its business. We…carry its progress”
What could this inspirational ad campaign be for?
Freight trains, of course!
The campaign is for Union Pacific railroad, a company with rails that connect 23 states in the western two-thirds of the United States. They have 8,000 locomotives, 47,000 employees and spent $4.1 billion on capital purchases in 2014. The ad, available on YouTube here, aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN, FOX News Channel, HGTV and History, among others.
As explained on their YouTube site:
[The ad] celebrates how Union Pacific connects a nation. This video is part of UP’s national television advertising campaign, called America Proud, which connects viewers with the company’s role in supporting communities and businesses, shared ideals of hard work and service, and its commitment to supporting the American way of life. The campaign highlights UP’s pride for the millions of people and thousands of customers it serves.
The staff at Bluestem Communications like this commercial because it is pretty and inspiring, and sappy in a good way. It is dripping with values and could be a great example of the kind of values-based messaging that Bluestem Communications encourages all organizations to use.
Yet, as communicators, the commercial should make us all wonder: who is their real audience?
Likely, 99% of the people watching “The Big Bang Theory” or “Sports Center” do not plan on hiring a freight train company anytime soon.
Maybe Union Pacific had some bad press they were trying to get over. Maybe they were trying to build support for an appropriations bill in Congress. Or maybe they just wanted to spend some of their millions on some pretty commercials.
Because they have the money to burn, it is less of a problem that their audience is not immediately clear. But, since you likely don’t have millions in advertising dollars saved up, choosing the right audience should matter to you.
The right audience is people who:
- Have the ability to take the action you want them to take
- You can reach through available pathways
Since we are not in the market for freight-hauling services, we are not the ideal audience for Union Pacific. We cannot take the action they want us to take.
When we start work with partners—nonprofit organizations, municipalities or coalitions—they often come to us because they think they have identified a cool communications tool that they need to reach their audiences, like a Facebook page, a website, a new brochure or a beautiful video.
Unfortunately, these partners usually have put the cart before the horse. They have identified the cool tool before taking the time to determine who their audience is. Bluestem works with our partners to take a step back and understand the audience. Then, we can develop the powerful values-based message and the cool communications tool to get that message out there.
If only Union Pacific had taken the time to consult Bluestem first, we could have saved them some serious advertising dollars!