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Insights, Outsights, and Oversights

This Heineken ad just came on, it’s called “The Closer.” On the surface, it’s about how they’ve built a bottle opener that is also a blue-tooth enabled device that can shut off computers and work apps. On a deeper level, it’s the brand speaking to the issue of work/life balance and how hard it is to separate the two in this new “always on,” semi-post-COVID reality we’re all struggling with. The ad is clever and fun to watch—but it doesn’t seem to me like it’s really a Heineken ad. It’s actually what I’d call an outsight ad.

What’s an outsight? Well, outsight is a term we use for a communication focused on an insight that isn’t fundamentally connected to the essence of the brand that’s sharing it, so instead of deep, it feels like a more generic observation. That’s an outsight.

As powerful and accurate as the insight about the work/play imbalance may be, it doesn’t have a lot to do with the story that Heineken seems to have been telling for much of its existence—a story of the connective power of effortless class and style, a story powered by the struggle between independence and connection. For Heineken, that mismatch in story turns awareness of the world’s current work/play crisis from an insight into an outsight. The crisis is happening, people are concerned about it—it’s just not deeply connected, in and of itself, to the story that makes the brand go. It’s an outside issue for Heineken, not and inside one.

Corona, on the other hand, has been telling almost this exact story for the bulk of their history. With their countless beach settings, people choosing chill-time over all else, Snoop Dogg drowning Andy Samberg’s smartphone in a beer-cooling ice bucket, they’ve always been champions of play in the work/play balance. For Corona, the global work/play imbalance insight would come across as an actual insight because it’s so deep inside what the brand is all about.

Although “The Closer” may test well for Heineken in the moment, it’s unlikely the ad will build lasting connection or reinforce what Heineken is all about. It’s just not “on story” for the brand the way they’ve framed it. To be fair, there are way worse things that can happen when brands try to own outsights that don’t mesh with their internal story. Remember the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial?

I’m not against brands keeping an ear to the ground and paying attention to what’s going on in the world around them. Far from it. But I am an advocate of brands approaching and understanding societal issues through the lens of their own story—the conflict that makes them tick, the meaning that shapes their point of view in their category, and the purpose that uniquely defines them. But without that connection to the actual story of the brand, even the most powerful insights become mere outsights.

“Character gets to the heart of what good storytelling is all about. They’ve helped Wendy’s focus on what makes us unique, different and special and that’s helped us to get people’s attention, keep their interest and keep the business growing. We compete with much larger brands, but by being overt about how we want to attack those differences, we’ve been able to have a lot of tension and conflict in the story that we are telling. That allows us to keep the story fresh and to fuel it. The more we do that the more positive attention we get as a brand and the more the brand continues to grow, which, in turn, builds our confidence in our storytelling and keeps the courage level high.”

—Kurt  Kane, President U.S. & Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s Corporation

“I’ve been through Character’s story framework process four times in my career, and it has always added extraordinary value. It was a central piece of Walmart’s rebranding effort in 2006, as we sought a new articulation of our brand narrative and our purpose. It’s an equally powerful tool for us now, as Walmart defines its place in a rapidly transforming retail environment. And we are currently using it to do the same for Sam’s Club.”

—Tony Rogers, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart

“Character’s approach to brand building is unlike any other in the business. Jim and his team use the timeless truths of human storytelling to unlock story potential and connect deeply with brand audiences. I’ve worked with Character throughout my career, and my experience with Tabasco was as fascinating, inspiring, and productive as ever. 

Character worked with our team not only to help us re-examine and re-articulate the elemental truths of our iconic global brand but also to develop and apply practical tools that make the brand story framework user-friendly for our entire organization. 

I whole-heartedly recommend Character to any brand marketer who is looking to make intuitive and durable connections with their consumer.”

Lee Susen, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Tabasco / McIlhenny Company