When millions of viewers tuned into CNN’s Election Night coverage, they were already anxious and frustrated, knowing full well they would not know the final results that night. Eight-year-old meditation app Calm was there to provide a humorous—if not ironic—reprieve.
The app, which aims to alleviate mental health fatigue and restless sleep through mindfulness exercises and bedtime stories, sponsored CNN’s “Key Race Alerts” and ran a 30-second spot of rain falling on leaves, while also sharing breathing and relaxation exercises on social media. With just the words “Brought to you by Calm” and an app icon appearing next to the bright red, angsty alerts, the app struck a chord with viewers, and that night on Twitter it saw 9,700 mentions (a 248% increase from the previous day) and 56,000 engagements, according to analytics company Talkwalker. Many called it the best product placement of 2020.
The move showed the brand, founded in 2012 by entrepreneurs Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew, could not only be bold, but agile. Erin Hassey, director of user acquisition at Calm, says the CNN opportunity came up only a week before Election Night. The app’s 14-person marketing team, particularly its brand and growth teams, had to make a rapid decision whether to participate, and decided to jump on it.
“It’s really about being ready to reprioritize,” says Hassey. “It’s important to be reactive to what we’re seeing in the environment to be able to help people.”
But Calm would not have been as prepared to make such a decision if it wasn’t already leaning heavier into TV, a rising trend among direct-to-consumer brands. For the past year, the brand has been working with TV measurement agency Tatari to launch its first TV campaigns across linear and connected TV. In the month leading up to Election Night, Calm saw nearly 242 million TV ad impressions at an estimated media value of $1.4 million, according to iSpot.tv data. Ads instruct viewers to “Do nothing" for 15 or 30 seconds.