Fearlessness is something that agencies acquire over time. They aren’t born with it. They don’t implement a process that creates it. They don’t hire it. Truthfully, really fearless agencies encourage a culture of foolishness and interrogation. Foolishness allows unexpected ideas to be heard. Interrogation makes sure these ideas are tempered in the reality of business without losing their attractiveness. I’ve seen many campaigns that have brought these two ideals to life on behalf of brands. But nothing quite like what Hamburger Helper, a 45 year old brand, pulled off last week – April Fools’ Day.

Hamburger Helper provides easy meal prep for younger demographics and busy parents who are not gourmet chefs.Hamburger Helper looked at their demographic of collegiate youth and identified a significant oversaturation in hip hop culture – whoopee. Plenty of brands have seen this insight in the past and completely botched it with an awkward approach to a culture that evolves rapidly. Instead of using this insight to produce the normal college sponsorship and advertising activations, Hamburger Helper went a step further. They didn’t engage the community… they became a part of it.

How? Hamburger Helper released a mixtape: Watch The Stove (a parody of the Jay-Z, Kanye West album Watch The Throne)  

Much to the surprise of many, it’s pretty good. They followed many of the philosophies for content that I look to implement in my work:

  • Package content for the user – The mixtape package is authentic to those who subscribe to hip hop culture. Approaching the community with an offering rather than a solicitation is one of the greatest lessons a communicator can learn.
  • Collaborate. Don’t patronize – Collaborating with real hip hop producers helped to establish the authenticity needed to get the community to take this activation seriously. Anything Hamburger Helper would have done without a real surrogate for creativity and intellectual property would have landed in a very bad place for them.
  • Distribute in non-traditional ways – This is another example of meeting a user where they are active. SoundCloud is a place where independent music artists are allowed to showcase music and build a following. By releasing this work here, it continued to endear the project to members of the community that distribute links at a high rate and are at the center of conversations about music. Some clients would want to collect the metric of users coming to their website to download this project which would have destroyed the organic distribution engine they have with SoundCloud.

Overall, the creators of this campaign were fearless. This project “broke the internet” by trending on all three major social networks – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Agencies and brands should be brave enough to try unconventional methods of meeting their stakeholders where they are. You never know where unorthodox ideas may take you.

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Marc Johnson

Marc Johnson, senior director, is APCO Worldwide's global Digital practice lead based in New York. Read More