Duracell Turns up the Branding Volume

The new Duracell commercial featuring Derrick Coleman – the inspirational, undrafted Seattle Seahawks running back who was born deaf – successfully earns Duracell a level of emotional brand equity that no battery company has ever enjoyed, much less from a single campaign.

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The most (and perhaps only) identifiable battery ad campaign (for everyone over the age of twenty-one, anyway) is the Energizer Bunny mascot for Energizer, who’s been a media presence, in one form or another, since 1989.

As a campaign, the Energizer Bunny excelled by virtue of simple repetition. Year after year, consumers encountered the Bunny, becoming part of our cultural/consumer identity. Still, the Bunny only generated familiarity with Energizer, not loyalty, since the creation of loyalty requires a tangible set of values with which the consumer can identify and come to depend on. To quote Ezra Pound, “only emotion endures”.

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While Pound’s comment was made in the context of art and poetry, in that only pieces driven by a universal emotional value would transcend the temporary culture of a particular time and place, the same goes for successful marketing/branding/advertising, since what is funny or witty may not be so tomorrow (based on zeitgeist, shifting intellectual perspectives, etc.). Dissimilarly, what is inspiring, scary, loving, etc., is based on human responses that haven’t hanged in human history and will never change.

Before watching the video, I wondered how Duracell would borrow the emotional value of Derrick Coleman’s story without the process seeming like a gratuitous, transparent appropriation. To put it simply, they were smart.

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First off, the basic connection between the battery and the athlete is that they “never stop” – Duracell in the sense that it’s long-lasting, Coleman in that he never succumbed to life’s obstacles. Next, Duracell played its role in assisting Coleman – providing the power for his hearing aid. The ad was also supported by witty writing, with Coleman at one point saying over voiceover that “he’s been deaf since he was three, so he didn’t listen” when naysayers predicted his failure. The final, perfect tagline: “Trust the power within” – speaks again to the power within the battery and the emotional power of the ad’s subject; a line they are sure to continue using for similarly emotive purposes.

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