Several leading brands are leveraging their anniversaries in their advertising. Especially in 2012, a year packed with major anniversaries, the airwaves and digital and print media are saturated with celebratory and commemorative anniversary messages. But what is the value of this type of consumer communication, and what does it achieve?

At The History Factory, we typically are not directly involved in creating consumer advertisements for our clients, but we often develop the content that gets used in ads – especially as they relate to anniversaries. We always keep an eye on what brands are doing to communicate their heritage or a major milestone to consumers. Brands can be built, strengthened and supported in many different ways, and sometimes it makes sense to integrate an anniversary message into a broader advertising strategy.

I’ve identified four types of standard “anniversary advertisements” that we routinely see in the marketplace, and have broken down their strategic value below.

1. The anniversary “seal”

This is the most basic and least strategic example of the four examples. It goes back to what we often see out of companies celebrating a major milestone – the lack of a true strategic vision for the anniversary with messaging that will be relevant to its audiences. If you’re going through the time, trouble and budget to produce an anniversary logo, it should stand for something. The ad is saying, in essence, “Buy this product or service because we’re 100 years old.” But there’s no substantiation to the implied claim. The age of your company does not alone give you credibility. Without authentic messaging or programming around the anniversary, it’s just a logo for logo’s sake.

2. The celebratory message

This approach can be effective or ineffective depending on how it’s executed. OREO exemplifies how to bring a celebratory tone to an anniversary and make it meaningful. While most companies can’t get away with a simple, “Hoorah! We’re 100!” message, OREO is a brand built on fun and playfulness, and thus has the perfect profile for this type of messaging. With a playful, engaging and interactive website along with supporting mainstream advertising containing witticisms such as the example below, OREO has taken its standard ad budget and achieved what it would have been trying to do on any other day – get suckers like me to run to the CVS next door and impulsively indulge in an entire sleeve of the cream-filled cookies – by using anniversary messaging consistent with their brand and tone of voice.

Oreo’s 100th anniversary print ad

Life Savers Centennial Ad

Life Savers also takes a playful approach with its centennial advertising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The timeline of major milestones

Citi Bicentennial Print Ad

Citi bicentennial print ad

The timeline approach, like using a celebratory message, can succeed or fail based on how it’s executed. As an advertiser, you have to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and ask yourself, why should I care? A timeline of events and milestones means nothing if it’s not substantiated or supporting a specific message. Citi, for example, is pulling forward the theme of innovation in the print ad to the right (which is part of a larger bicentennial campaign). By showing how it has innovated in the past, it gives consumers confidence that they will continue to be at the leading edge of banking in the future. It also portrays stability at a time where banks are anything but stable, or trusted for that matter. In terms of messaging, this works to their favor.

Citi also features the timeline into their TV ads:

4. The substantive stories

Using stories from an organization’s history can create a genuine connection with an audience and help strengthen a brand’s reputation. Many ads will use humor, wit, guilt or simply an informational tone to make a connection with an audience. Instead, this type of advertising uses authenticity, substance and in some cases, nostalgia. This approach is more universal, as it can apply both to commemorating an anniversary milestone or simply using heritage as a content strategy in itself. The result is that the viewer gets to know the brand on a deeper level, understand more about how it has impacted history, and ultimately feel more connected to the brand after seeing the ads.

A good example of this approach is Lockheed Martin, which is commemorating its 100th anniversary this year by sharing 100 stories of innovations and achievements from its history and teasing the stories through digital and mainstream advertising.

In the example below, Zurich North America shows how they’ve helped insure some of America’s largest infrastructure projects over their 100-years in the country.  It then teases the reader to go to their centennial website to learn more.

Zurich Transit Ad

Zurich N.A. centennial transit ad

Regardless of which approach a brand takes in its advertising, at the end of the day it’s crucial to keep in mind that the messaging must be true to the brand. For instance, OREO will have trouble telling stories of inspiration and encouragement like Lockheed Martin because, let’s face it, it’s an unhealthy product and it hasn’t directly influenced major innovations or historical events. But the joyful feelings people associate with it are worthy of celebrating. So in OREO’s case, it makes more sense to go with a celebratory story-gathering platform that engages its loyal fan base and uses its consumers to authenticate the brand instead of trying to create those meaningful stories itself. Whichever approach is used in milestone advertising, if it stays true to the character of the brand, it will resonate, be authentic and advance the anniversary message in a productive way.

By Marissa Piette