It's an impactful video: A group of American volunteers walk the harsh, bone-dry Sonoran Desert, leaving behind jugs of water for those making the treacherous border crossing from Mexico to the U.S. One older man, riding his pickup truck, says, "When you look at the crisis on the border, death and suffering, you have to respond."
The "More Than Nice" video, produced by three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, ("The Revenant," "Gravity," "Birdman"), is not a documentary nor a social campaign ad. It's an ad produced by KIND Snacks, makers of the popular KIND bars now found in so many store aisles.
The company was founded by Lubezki's cousin, Daniel Lubetzky, who is also the CEO. Both men are Mexican-Jewish immigrants.
“I think we wanted to spark a conversation about the importance of being kind, even to those people that are different from us," said Lubetzky, adding he wanted to stress the importance of being thoughtful and respectful to those who are in need or more vulnerable.
“I think that's the type of reflection we want to cause in society — how do we take care of those who are coming into our borders to prevent them from dying in the desert and the wilderness, and how do we make sure that we at all times, particularly when things are tough, are handling ourselves with kindness?" said Lubetzky.
KIND Snacks, founded 13 years ago, has been very successful, selling more than $1 billion worth of products since it started.
Lubetzky hopes the company's video sparks a conversation about being "kind to others," even in a more polarized political climate. As an immigrant, Lubetzky said, he understands the struggle of people who come to America from all over the world looking for a better life, and he hopes to relay that message, as well as the message of kindness, to his customers and to a broader audience.
The "Trump effect" and social relevance
In 2017, several big companies touched on issues like immigration in their ads, drawing buzz as well as sparking controversy.
Budweiser's Super Bowl ad, “Born the Hard Way,” showed the story of Anheuser-Busch co-founder Adolfus Busch coming to the U.S. from Germany; at one point he's told he's "not wanted" in the U.S. The ad sparked some calls to boycott the company. Budweiser said the commercial was not intended to be political but about the founder’s story.
“There’s really no correlation with anything else that’s happening in the country,” Ricardo Marques, Budweiser’s vice president of marketing told AdWeek last February. “We believe this is a universal story that is very relevant today because probably more than any other period in history today the world pulls you in different directions, and it’s never been harder to stick to your guns.”
84 Lumber released their Super Bowl ad, titled “The Entire Journey,” which showcased a border wall with a door in it. The company received a barrage of support and criticism for the ad. Representatives with the company later released a statement to the Washington Post that said, “The intent of the Super Bowl commercial...was to show that 84 Lumber is a company of opportunity.”
Tulin Erdam, a professor of business and marketing at New York University, said that in 2017 there were more ads and marketing than usual that intertwined social and political issues, which Erdam described as the “Trump effect.” Though some companies state their intent is not political, others like Patagonia have been direct about politically charged messaging.
But ads that touch on social and political issues are not new, said Erdam, and are part of a trend as companies seek to stay relevant in a rapidly changing society.
“Corporate social responsibility is getting much more important too,” said Erdam, adding that a demand for relevance is now more intertwined in the worlds of commerce and entertainment. "I think that has nothing to do with Trump. That was a trend already.”
But for ads with a social or cultural message to be effective, said Erdam, it has to feel like it's part of the company’s DNA. If not, it can backfire on the brand and it can be seen as inauthentic. Companies need to keep points of view and engagement with their consumers in a way that is consistent with who they are as a brand.
For Lubetzky, using his brand as a platform to send a message of kindness regarding the human plight of border crossings was without a doubt the right thing to do.
He said he doesn't take for granted "all of the values we have in America," not just as an immigrant but as the son of a Holocaust survivor and of a family that struggled in Mexico to make ends meet.
“The immigrant experience and the experience of people stretching out a hand to those that are in need is something my parents taught me," said Lubetzky, who described himself "as a Mexican that was very proud to come to America and loves this country and thinks this is really the best country in the world."