Strike Up the Brand

With their energy, colorful uniforms and good ol’ American feeling, marching bands have caught the attention of advertising agencies and TV viewers alike. Go behind-the-scenes of three commercials starring the marching arts (one band, one drum line and one color guard) to find out why creative directors chose to feature these groups.

Photo courtesy of SENSA Weight-Loss System

Nothing signals a celebration like a marching band—and advertisers are taking notice. Television commercials are using marching bands more and more to highlight their products and promote their brands. Both the exciting sound and bold visuals help to get a viewer’s attention in the age of DVR and smart phone distractions.

Shake, Shake, Shake

Advertising agencies, copywriters, creative directors and marketers gravitate toward marching bands when they want energy, excitement and a sense of grandeur in their commercials.

SENSA Weight-Loss System, commonly referred to as “the sprinkle diet,” released a set of commercials starring the Riverside (Calif.) Community College Marching Band. Characters in the commercial would sprinkle SENSA on their food and suddenly be ambushed by the band at a drive-in diner, in the office and down the street in a parade.

“I was working with these freelance writers, and they had the idea of a couple at home having breakfast, and they open up a box of SENSA, and there’s a little band inside the box,” says Carter Baldwin, president and executive creative director of SENSA Studios. “I thought that it would be fun for the band to appear out of nowhere and tear through any place it could wreak chaos.”

Previous SENSA commercials had featured women in bikinis dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty,” rebranded as “Shake Your SENSA.” Baldwin wanted to continue to incorporate the song in a new way.

“We wanted to put high-octane energy into it to sound more like a halftime show as opposed to a faithful technical reproduction of the song; we wanted it to be raucous,” Baldwin says. “I went to Riverside to rehearse, and we got the song going with the arrangement and recorded it on the tennis courts.”

Mead Built Strong

A popular commercial among high school students in the late 1990s featured percussionists drumming on and dancing with Mead Five Star Notebooks in a highly complicated and acrobatic routine.

“The commercial was part of our overall brand strategy to connect with our audiences in a trendy, high-energy way,” says Amy Botkin, senior brand manager of Five Star. “We felt a commercial concept that incorporated a drum line provided a visually appealing format and would bring personality and likeability and make a memorable impact on our audience.”

Inspired by the success of groups like Stomp and Blue Man Group, Five Star’s team felt that drum lines were very cool and on trend and could demonstrate the durability of their products.

“Drums, quite literally, take a beating, and school supplies often fall under the same demise as students put them through the rigors of the school year,” Botkin says. “We felt the drum line concept best connected the durability message of our Five Star brand while showcasing our unique features, colors and styles.”

One Less

Advertising agency DDB Worldwide wanted to feature empowered young women in ads for Gardasil—a vaccine created by Merck that protects against four types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The campaign encouraged girls to become “one less” victim of cervical cancer by getting the vaccine.

“We wanted to feature a group activity, but something somewhat unique that people weren’t so used to seeing on TV and specifically not in commercials,” says Tom McDonnell, group creative director at DDB. “The color guard and the tools they use also offered a terrific opportunity to feature dynamic activity and very beautiful and graphic photography. We wanted any young woman in America to be able to look at the spot and say to themselves, ‘Hey, that could be me.’”

The campaign, also created by art director Marilyn Kam, featured members of Alter Ego Color Guard of Trumbull, Ct., spinning flags and sitting in stadium bleachers to talk about being “one less.” The group was chosen by a casting agency.

Professional Performers

The endurance, discipline, and rehearsal etiquette practiced by marching groups make them perfect for the sometimes long, complex and grueling days on a commercial set. “We looked into different bands around town and quickly found the Riverside [Community College] Marching Band,” says Baldwin, who worked with 40 to 50 members of the RCC band for two 12-hour days. “It was a great experience for me, and I’d love to do it again. The RCC guys were totally professional and a joy to work with. Any directors out there thinking of [working with a marching band], I’d highly recommend it.”

Band members performed freestyle dance moves, including one particularly enthusiastic gyrating trumpet player on top of a vintage 1964 Plymouth that was reinforced for safety. Crewmembers constructed a ramp hidden behind the car so that band members appeared to march up onto and over the vehicle.

Five Star’s creative agency auditioned high school drummers and dancers in Los Angeles to create the ensemble featured in its commercial and hired a choreographer to create the routine.

“The rehearsal and filming took place in a high school gym and lasted three to four days,” Botkin says. “The shoot went relatively smooth considering the amount of talent we had in the commercial, and although it took quite a few cuts to perfect the precise rhythm, choreography and lighting, the final result was superb.”

The Gardasil shoot on location at Warwick (N.Y.) Valley High School was so successful that the color guard completed all its shots in just two and a half hours.

“The young women we were fortunate enough to work with were fantastic; they were bright, enthusiastic, clearly enjoyed what they were doing, were exceedingly polite, and just a joy to be around,” Mc- Donnell says. “Even though they were just students, and none of them had ever acted before, they were professional in every possible way.”

Commercial Success

The series of SENSA ads featuring RCC filmed in May 2012 and began airing in July. Baldwin expects them to continue airing for as long as a year due to the extreme success they have had in driving traffic to the website of the relatively young company.

“It was a huge success for SENSA, their most successful TV advertisement out of about 10 or 11,” says Baldwin. “There are very distinct analytics that let them know how well it’s performing, and these are performing extremely well.”

According to Botkin, the Five Star commercial received all positive feedback and was considered a great success for the brand, airing for about two years.

“The commercial was visually and rhythmically appealing and stood out among traditional back-to-school campaigns running at the same time,” Botkin says. “It broke through the TV commercial ‘clutter’ with its fresh, innovative approach.”

The “One Less” spot aired for more than a year (2007 to 2008), received several creative advertising awards and created a surprising reaction among the public. “It was very successful for our clients in the marketplace and exceeded all expectations,” says McDonnell. “We received lots of positive feedback from the public about the commercials and heard from several doctors that young women would come into their office saying, ‘I want to be One Less.’ That is unprecedented, to have people citing words directly from the commercial.”

Although the vaccine received some negative attention when it was first released, the commercial itself and the color guard were praised. “Of course, the existence of the vaccine also sparked some political controversy in certain areas of the country, but feedback to the commercials was all positive,” McDonnell says.

Marketing With Marching

So why marching bands, color guards or drum lines? Why use them in commercials for products that all seemingly had very little, if any, direct relation? Each advertiser saw different positive qualities that made them want to feature these groups.

For Five Star, the music and visual aspect was most desirable. “Attentiongrabbing energy—there’s something about a foot-tapping beat and head-nodding music that immediately captures an audience’s attention and lures in passersby within earshot,” Botkin says. “Drum lines are attention-getters, and that’s what we want to communicate with Five Star products.”

Gardasil wanted to tap into the teamwork and cooperation shown in a precise and visual performance and the relatability of marching students. “Color guards and marching bands both feature group activities that are something other than sports, and that most people can relate to whether they’ve actually ever been part of a team or band or not,” McDonnell says. “The precision in which they move and perform relative to one another makes for very interesting and graphic visuals that help create a natural rhythm that works very well on film.”

And perhaps the most common reason to use marching bands in any type of media is to bring a wholesome, All- American charm and a celebratory atmosphere— a centuries-old perception. “It’s something that has a very nostalgic and positive connotation in the same vein as a Norman Rockwell painting—it’s something uniquely American that everybody knows,” Baldwin says. “It’s movement and dance and music; there’s a kinetic energy to it. People have positive feelings and emotions when they see it.”

See these and other commercials in our story “Marching Marketing Memories.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor for Halftime Magazine and a freelance journalist and communications professional in Los Angeles. She marched flute at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band, where she now works as a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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