Sponsor Content Above the Clutter with Pete Krainik
Episode Seven: Man And Machine
Brought to you by: IBM
It's back-to-school time, America. Across much of the South and Midwest, in fact, kids are already battling with their parents about bed times and homework. And retailers are in a pitched battle to separate those same parents from their school-supply budgets.
In ad circles, Old Navy's already won the war with its girl-power-tinged teen anthem "Unlimited" from CAA Marketing. And for good reason. It's an excellent music video that made even my inner young-adult scream, "THEY GET ME! THEY REALLY GET ME!" But how hard is it to sell insecurity and uplift to a teenager?
Not as hard as it is to break through the back-to-school clutter and get harried parents to even notice you, much less consider driving to your store to buy back-to-school clothes, wide-ruled loose leaf and No. 2 pencils and a protractor that will go unused.
For that particular battle, I'm going to put my money on Kmart's "Kicks, Jeans and Hoodies" -- aka The Lunch Lady Rap -- from agency FCB.
Yes. I know. A "rap" by a marketer. White people and marketers (often the same thing) have been appropriating hip-hop since Blondie slipped a rap into "Rapture" way back in 1981. And it seems like they've been using the same rhyme scheme and rhythm for 33 years.
But this one's different, starting with the fact that it at least sounds like a version of rap heard in the last decade. The lyrics are naturally about Kmart's offerings but manage to be self-aware and funny, as are some of the accompanying visuals and choreography, in particular the dropped beet (get it!?!), the raining corn and the dance moves of dishwasher Tony and the other unnamed guy.
What also helps is the diversity of the cast. Maybe it speaks to the new demographic reality in America. Maybe it speaks to the demographic reality of Kmart's target. Whatever the case, it's refreshing to see a cast that is either close to or actually majority minority.
Obviously, the ad will do little to convince tweens and teens -- who I can't imagine ever aspiring to clothes from Kmart in the first place -- but even they might get a kick out of the joke.
There is a little tiny itch at the back of my brain that worries about cultural appropriation in the service of commerce. But I squashed that pretty quickly. Firstly, Kmart is selling back-to-school supplies to parents, not guns to minors. Secondly, these sorts of arguments are fine in an academic way, but academia is to marketing reality as Guardians of the Galaxy is to raccoon biology.
Ultimately, the main difference between Kmart's video and Old Navy's is that only one of them is dressing itself up with a public-service element -- which is perfectly fine.
And I'll gladly take either of them over hearing Pharrell's "Happy" shoved into a commercial for the six millionth time this year.