Insanity, a well-known genius once said, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Skipping insanity, one of the nation's leading organic brands went for outrageous instead. Gone are sweet images of rolling hills and soft-faced farmers in jeans. For this round of advertising, Organic Valley turned to gym-fueled brawn and a couple of bleeped-out curse words in a viral campaign that Fortune, Esquire and Mashable talked up last week for its surprise strategy and humor.
SaveTheBros marked the first time the Wisconsin-based cooperative of organic farmers, the largest in the nation, veered from an advertising format that until then had hewed to all things gentle. But for good reason.
Chattanooga advertising agency Humanaut created the digital-only campaign, and Chattanooga production company Fancy Rhino filmed it locally over the course of two days. Among the set locations: Sunset Rock, Coolidge Park, Grocery Bar, Sports Barn and GreenSpaces.
The ad, which runs about 2 minutes as a mock public-service announcement, aims to convert the protein-shake consuming masses to Organic Fuel, an organic high-protein milk-based recovery shake.
"We're kind of celebrating bros and poking fun at them at the same time," said David Littlejohn, co-founder of Humanaut and the campaign's creative director.
"Bros," it shall be said, are defined a number of ways, though they like to party no matter which urban dictionary you consult.
SaveTheBros has elements of the absurd: beer-funneling as a metaphor for innovation, a muscled man deemed a patriot for donning a tiny U.S.-flag-patterned bathing suit. But Organic Fuel has a handle on its audience: "Bros don't need to know that it's organic. Just tell a bro it has a ton of protein," the ad encourages.
"It was ridiculous but also really touched on the things we want people to know," Littlejohn said. "There's a lot of weird chemical stuff and crazy ingredients in supplements and shakes."
Organic Valley turned to Humanaut, which launched in late 2013, because it's "very scrappy and creative," said Lewis Goldstein, Organic Valley's vice president of brand marketing.
The agency had earlier created an online campaign called Only Organic for a group of organic-related companies that includes Organic Valley. The latest installment of that campaign, in fact, launched Monday.
SaveTheBros cost Organic Valley about one-quarter of what a television ad would have, Goldstein said. And the campaign employs more than video; the website offers two coupons, "buy one bro one," in order to "buy an Organic Fuel for yourself, and bro a free one to a bro in need." That allows Organic Valley to at least partially track results.
The online medium makes the most sense for reaching a younger demographic, said Barbara Lippert, media critic for MediaPost. And online ads can push the boundaries of what's acceptable because they don't have to meet television standards.
"It has to be more outrageous to make it viral," Lippert said. As of Monday, one week after the campaign launched, the video had more than 730,000 views on YouTube. And SaveTheBros was Adweek's top commercial of the week.
It was tough for Organic Valley to balance targeting a new audience with the societal tastes of its longtime consumers and 1,800 farmers. "Some farmers are very conservative, some are not," Goldstein said. "They're not used to seeing anything but the very traditional."
Indeed, not everyone embraced the campaign.
Maxim acknowledged how catchy it was but took exception to the bro stereotype as displayed. "It disingenuously conflates meatheads and gym rats with Bros in order to benefit from a tired buzzword," the online article said.
The PSA format could offend too, Lippert noted. "It's a little disrespectful to things that really need public service." Adweek acknowledged that the PSA format has been overused but added that "Humanaut gets away with it by virtue of the ad actually being funny."
Humanaut was aware of the risks it took. The strategy gingerly poked fun at the PSA format of "everyone always asking you to help with a cause and donate," Littlejohn said. "It's kind of refreshing for people to have this cause that's not that important."
Or maybe it is important? Commitment to supplying humans with food that's free of pesticides and genetically modified ingredients is pretty serious, proponents of the organic movement say.
"Our real hope is to grow the organic market," Goldstein of Organic Valley said. "We'd love to see a big shelf of organic recovery shakes (at stores)."
Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at email@example.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.
This story was updated to fix a typo.