We love campaigns that make an impact. This is the first in a monthly series of blog posts about such campaigns, why they work, and what we can learn and apply to our own communications efforts. 

The most essential attribute in a campaign we love is a unifying strategy that is based on strong audience insight and communicates in unique ways to drive results. 

We also are always on the lookout for campaigns that feature a variety of issues and products from both the commercial and nonprofit worlds. Some that we feature will be highly celebrated and others will be low profile, but they will all have a unique and important lesson we can take away for our own campaigns. 

Snickers, You’re Not You When You’re Hungry

Last month would have been Betty White’s 100th birthday. We all know and love Betty for many reasons. Whether you first knew her as TV characters Sue Ann Nivens or Rose Nylund, most remember her 2010 Super Bowl ad, which launched the enduringly iconic Snickers campaign, You’re Not You When You’re Hungry

As behavior-change communicators, there is much we can learn from the commercial world. When trying to raise money, increase awareness, and change complex behaviors, we’re also competing for mindshare and attention with every other campaign out there. By understanding what constitutes a great commercial campaign, we can find new and interesting ways to make a real impact.

Let’s start at the end: Did the Snickers campaign drive results? This campaign, launched in 2010 and still running, has continuously fueled brand and sales growth for Snickers. So, quite simply, the answer is yes. Which leads us to the question: What can we learn from this campaign?

Lesson #1: Base Your Campaign on Deep Insight About Your Audience, Not What You Want To Say About Yourself 

It is easy to get caught up in the messages you want people to take away from your campaign, but great campaigns stem from an intersection of your needs and the needs of your audience. Deep audience insight—understanding unique messages that motivate and engage your audience—is the key to finding that intersection. Strong insight tells you something new that you can turn into fresh and novel campaign ideas. 

In the case of Snickers, sure the candy bar satisfies hunger (see previous Snickers campaigns), the real discovery is that, when you are hungry, you do not feel like yourself. And you don’t even realize it until someone else points it out. That twist is what leads to the surprise and delight in the Betty White ad.

Snickers did something else with this campaign that was quite surprising—it gave their audience permission to treat Snickers like food, not like candy. Candy is a treat, but Snickers addresses an important sensation: hunger. By positioning Snickers as the answer to hunger, both physically and emotionally, it opened new opportunities for sales.

Lesson #2: Tenor and Tone Make It a Campaign 

The campaign for Snickers was not about Betty White or football, it was about Snickers resolving the tension in the insight: You’re Not You If You’re Hungry. Tension is what makes the audience lean in and pay attention to the story and the message. It does not rely on a specific channel, celebrity, or device. It does, however, rely on a consistent tenor (the meaningful message) and tone (how that message is conveyed) for longevity and global reach.

Whether adapting product packaging to capture people’s moods when they are hungry with words like Feisty and Impatient, or capitalizing on social media sentiment by giving coupons to people who were acting hangry, the message and the down-to-earth humor unify the campaign.

Lesson #3: Launch, Sustain, and Launch Again

The best campaigns are constantly inventing—creating new and interesting ways to communicate with their audiences. Campaigns are a marathon. Campaigns that are successful in achieving their goals generally need to run for three years or longer. They have a rhythm and cadence that capitalizes on the momentum of big ideas to move forward during the quieter times. 

Snickers arguably picked the biggest advertising moment of the year to run their launch ad: the Super Bowl. They used that moment to draw in a wide audience—not just in sheer numbers but across all types of people from football lovers to Golden Girls fans. After more than a decade, the campaign continues a cycle of launching new ideas, new ads, and new ways to say You’re Not You When You’re Hungry.

Three Questions to Ask When Planning Your Next Campaign

  1. What do I know about my audience that will motivate and engage them?
  2. What tension can I resolve for my audience with my message, service or product?
  3. Does my campaign idea endure beyond one moment in time?