(CNN) -- When the Smart car wanted to sell you a new model earlier this year, instead of talking about the usual advertising claims, like how great the car drives and how fuel efficient it is, Smart USA took a radically different approach. It came out with an idea of being against certain things. It asked you, the consumer, to think about what you were against in life, like excess stuff you buy but don't need, McMansions with four car garages and of course gas guzzlers.
This is an unusual thing for a car company to do. It was not simply pushing polished cars in ads, it was saying something controversial. It was taking a stand against something. And it went beyond advertisements and set up a Facebook page. Why would advertising do this, why would the brand have this message?
Well, the Smart car, with the help of my agency StrawberryFrog in New York, was trying to spark a national movement against dumb mindless over-consumption. The thinking was: "Hey, if we could get millions of people excited about joining the fight against waste and dumb consumerism, it's a great way to get them excited about the Smart car."
This is part of a larger trend in advertising. To get people excited about a brand in this new social-media-Facebook-crazy world, you need to dump the old advertising playbook and spark a movement that people can get involved with. What do I mean by a movement? It is usually a big idea that people are thinking and talking about in life. As a brand, if you can capture that idea, crystallize it with emotion and rally loads of people around it, then you have the makings of the movement. You have to develop it and expand it in places and on platforms to interact with people. This is how you gradually build the movement in ways that appeal to more and more people in more and more ways.
We have seen movements before with brands like VW in the 1960s and more recently Apple, which has not just created ad messages but experiences. Apple has given their fans and fanatics a sense that they are a part of this revolutionary movement going on in the tech world, going against big brother and IBM, standing up for creativity in their messaging, a counter-culture movement. You can even say that the Apple store is a clubhouse for the Apple movement, a place you go to feel a part of the movement where you are cool, smart and unique, a cut above the rest, with abundant creativity.
Brands like Nike have developed movements for its own brand but also for cancer survivors under the Livestrong movement with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Nike was smart by getting involved in a big way but very unconventionally and low-key, without big ads, which gave the movement support and credibility and allowed it to take off and grow. The benefit for Nike was tremendous.
Why is the emphasis on a movement more important than ever? Because traditional ads are not as effective as they used to be. Products are very similar, no one believes that my stuff makes my teeth whiter than the other stuff. Movements are another way to communicate with you, the consumer.
There is always the risk of hype and phoniness in this new model of communication. Brands can attach themselves to movements that people are passionate about but not bring exciting ideas to the table. If they do not do it well, they hurt their brand. But if they get it right they can help people get things done. Just look at the Pepsi Refresh Project which gives grants for community initiatives. That is doing something that advertising cannot do which is having a truly positive impact on people's daily lives.
Why is this "movement" marketing trend happening? Advertisers need a new way to engage with people. People are savvy about ads. Some brands understand this and create wildly successful advertising by making fun of ads to get you to pay attention, like Geico. Movements, on the other hand, attempt to go beyond an ad. Is this a way of advertising to infiltrate your life? Absolutely. We Madmen and women are trying to find ways to do that.
The question is, are we a positive element or are we an negative element? Are we going to make you angry that we are in your face(book) and all we are doing is exploiting it, or are we contributing in some way, by adding new ideas, creating new discussions, that make you feel better and happier every time you and the brand get together? That is what we will have to be judged on. Since brands are going to be part of your life, the question is what are they going to add? Can they have fun with you, stir your inner soul and align with your passions?
Often these movements try to express a philosophy about the way you live your life, the choices you make, what you stand for, what you are against. For example, look at the recent Jim Beam "Bold Choice" movement. In the TV commercial, a young Willem Dafoe is shown at a crossroads, faced with a choice: to boldly leave his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, and head for the bright lights (and long odds) of an acting career in New York City, or stay put, and let fate decide his future.
As Dafoe reflects on his decision, the commercial explores the many futures that could have been: factory foreman, chess champion, aging punk, even sumo wrestler. But, as Dafoe notes in the ad, there is really only one choice. "All choices lead you somewhere," he states. "Bold choices take you where you're supposed to be."
It's all about belonging to a movement that stands for a bigger challenge, a passion for achieving as much as you can with your life, living to your potential and not taking the easy way out. Do you make bold choices or do you not make bold choices. And who wouldn't want to belong to that?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Scott Goodson.