BUILDING BRIDGES:

HOW SQUARESPACE SELLS WITHOUT SELLING OUT

Meet Clem, one of the Graduate Trainees who joined Space Doctors earlier this year. As part of their candidacy, we always ask the graduates to analyse a brand of their choice and look into emergent cultural cues the brand is tapping into.

* These pieces have been written independently, are not meant to be an objective commercial critique, and they do not necessarily represent the views of Space Doctors Ltd *

Squarespace’s Super Bowl advert, featuring Jeff Bridges meditating next to a sleeping couple and little else, was a particularly good example of advertising built to appeal to a millennial market for a number of reasons.

At first blush it would appear risky opting to use a (presumably) large portion of the available funds to secure a classically prime-time slot, only to aim this at a group typically considered difficult to reach through such traditional means. The marketing drive relied on the advert being shared through social networks after the fact, as it could not be taken for granted that the targets were watching.

It is, though, the very fact that they opted to run a nonstandard Super Bowl commercial that granted the advert its peculiar status. If it weren’t a Super Bowl commercial, it would have been just another slightly odd advert, of which there are many. Viral marketing is nothing new, but to deliver an advert relying so heavily on going viral during a period uniquely dedicated to traditional huge budget celebrity endorsement-type adverts was novel enough to cause something of a sensation. It wasn’t important that the intended crowd see the spot during the Super Bowl, or even on a TV, but that they heard about it post hoc, and the gamble paid off.

To subvert traditional brand focus by advertising not Squarespace but a charity and ‘a website built by Squarespace’ also helped create the idea that Squarespace is in some way not out to capture consumers’ custom, a refreshing feeling in a climate wherein our attention is constantly being vied for.

This fostered the image of Squarespace as a nontraditional company that is ‘acceptable’ for a modern, self-aware consumer (i.e. one that is all too aware that the brands they choose are taken as external signifiers of their moral standings, lifestyle choices, etc.) to buy into.

The use of Jeff Bridges as the celebrity face of the campaign was a canny move. He is famous enough to be instantly recognisable, but not so famous that it might appear that his fame is being gauchely exploited. He also carries considerable cultural cachet for the younger creative crowd that Squarespace want to secure as customers due to appearances in films that skirt the cult/pop divide, The Big Lebowski being the most obvious. Squarespace would appear to want to straddle the same line; a huge company that still feels small, quirky and forward-thinking.

The inclusion of a charitable element (100% of the profits of the sleep aid album advertised will go to the ‘No Kid Hungry’ campaign, focused on providing for starving children) helped build an image of Squarespace as an ethical company, one that can safely be supported while maintaining the aforementioned socially-conscious, environmentally-aware self-identity that a huge and fast-increasing number of millennials pride themselves on embodying (at least outwardly).

I think it’s clear that an increasing number of brands are going to have to focus more heavily on their appearance as being indicators of this particular lifestyle that ever more young, affluent people are buying into. Consumers appear to be less interested in individuation and uniqueness than in identifying themselves as part of a broader movement; one based around decreased or at least less conspicuous consumerism and increased focus on the ethics of consumption. Hence, for example, the marked increase in demand for artisanal goods and small-scale production. Companies that wish to remain relevant will no doubt display increased focus on corporate social responsibility, environmental concern, and so forth. Whether they in fact embody their claims is a further question.

By Clem McCulloch