Archive for April, 2016

Helping a Power Equipment Heavyweight Recharge Their Brand

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Even if you haven’t heard of Briggs & Stratton by name, chances are you’ve pushed one of their lawn mowers, weeded your garden with their gear or fired up one of their generators at your cabin. Briggs & Stratton is the world’s largest producer of gasoline engines for outdoor power equipment, although many people may not realize that. Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they’ve been focused on making great engines for over 100 years. In 2015, they wanted to tell their story in a bigger way than ever.

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Briggs & Stratton came to us with a strategy they’d developed in partnership with Brandgarten. The strategy identified them as a heroic brand, and they wanted us to help bring that strategy to life through creative. How would their new positioning affect the way they communicate and connect with their consumer? The goal was to develop a set of branding tools that would rally their whole company around their new brand architecture and get their employees excited about coming to work in the morning.

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With their new strategy in mind, we came up with several campaign ideas that could creatively express Briggs & Stratton’s unique proposition. One idea resonated the most with the brand: You. Powered. It captured how their engines “powered the possible,” making everyday people the heroes of their own domain.

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We helped them create the core assets of the You. Powered. campaign, including visuals, a brand book and a brand video. With these assets, Briggs & Stratton was able to launch You. Powered. within their company and align their employees around a brand new vision.

Briggs & Stratton You. Powered. from Superhuman on Vimeo.

Congratulations to Briggs & Stratton. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Should Your Brand Flirt with Women’s Empowerment?

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Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Women’s empowerment is a hot topic in advertising right now. As a lady, it seems like I can’t watch a razor commercial without being reminded that a) I’m amaaazing b) I’m beautiful, smooth legs or nah c) I can do anything! Sometimes these ads might acknowledge that it’s hard being a woman, as in we want to do it all, but we can’t, and also our teenage children scoff at our choice in footwear, no matter how hard we try to be hip.  This topic is so hot there’s even an awards show called #Femvertising.

The idea behind #Femvertising is a provocative and smart one. The award show itself aims to “honor companies that are challenging gender stereotypes by building awareness-generating, pro-female messages and images into ads that target women.” Challenging gender stereotypes and building awareness for women’s issues are noble pursuits, and brands have the money and scale to take them on. I can’t fault a brand for setting about to try to make women’s lives better.

That said, brands start from a tricky position of having decades of gender stereotype-coded messaging under their belts. Brands aren’t just one of the biggest peddlers of gender stereotypes — oftentimes they’ve created them. (Would diamonds be a girl’s best friend if the diamond companies hadn’t told us they were?) Today, many commercials are targeted at “gatekeeper moms,” assuming that not only do moms spend most of a family’s money, but they do almost all of a family’s cooking and cleaning too. (Even though realistically, 28% of women are the breadwinners in today’s families and 1.9 million dads stay home with the kids.)

This doesn’t mean that brands can’t have credibility in this space. Oftentimes advertising recognizes the scale and influence of a population far before even Hollywood does. Advertising will probably beat mainstream T.V. and movies when it comes to fully embracing America’s growing hispanic population, even if they may talk to them in a way that totally misses the mark. For women, advertising has evolved a lot since the days when Peggy Olson tried to prove women wanted facial cream for something other than landing a husband. It can’t hurt that women like Peggy have increasingly entered the advertising space, even if they still only make up 11% of creative directors. But compared to Hollywood, where only 12% of protagonists were women in 2014, advertising’s desire to not just court, but better understand women is worth a head nod, at the least.

So when did advertising first get bit by the women’s empowerment bug? To answer that, we’d have to figure out when women’s empowerment first reached the point of precipitation in culture. For fun, I looked to see if that term has been rising in Google trends. The answer? Not really.

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A smattering of celebrities have been raising awareness about feminist issues lately, from Emma Watson (#HeForShe) to Beyoncé to Lena Dunham. The increasing dialog about street harassment, women’s reproductive health, the wage gap and rape awareness has risen thanks to the Internet/blogosphere and comedians like Jessica Williams and Amy Schumer. There’s also the election, which has become a fight to appeal to feminists, mostly between Hillary Clinton, the potential first female president, and Bernie Sanders, a proponent of a higher minimum wage and better parental leave policies.

I’m sure these are influential factors, but it’s just as likely that brands just want to be like Dove. Unilever’s minimalistic body product brand struck a chord with its #RealBeauty campaign a decade ago, and brands catering to women have been clamoring to follow in their footsteps ever since. Since then we’ve seen some very compelling ad creative aimed at raising awareness of women’s issues, from Always’ #LikeaGirl documentary to American Greetings’ #WorldsToughestJob. What’s going to win your brand an advertising award? A tear-jerking documentary that really means something is going to do better than a shallow portrayal of a stereotype every time.

But criticism of this type of marketing is starting to rise along with it. The New York Times published a scathing essay by Jia Tollentino examining the many ways empowerment is being sold to women. She compares the feminism of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In project to Kim Kardashian’s statement that she is empowered by her [naked] body. “Sandberg and Kardashian are perceived by most to be opposites, two aesthetically distinct brands fighting for our allegiance, when each has pioneered a similar, punish­ingly individualistic, market-driven understanding of women’s worth, responsibility and strength. In the world of women’s empowerment, they say the same thing differently: that our radical capability is mainly our ability to put money in the bank.”

It’s the kind of final sentence that will make all women wince a little bit, because it rings a little too true. And yet. A part of me is hesitant to be too pessimistic about brands’ sudden interest in women’s empowerment. Yes, it seems that the rising awareness of our issues unfortunately seems to come with hashtags attached to products. But that’s better than nothing, and certainly better than resorting back to advertising that plays to female insecurities. Brands are never going to dole out spoonfuls of pure empowerment without there being some business goal at the center. But they can work hard to make their message ring true rather than hollow. When they do, they can create something truly powerful.

For brands who want to play in this field, I humbly offer these tips for doing something meaningful for women’s empowerment:

1. Acknowledge that There are Real Forces in the World That Hold Women Back

What feels the most phony in this women’s empowerment movement is any ad aimed at giving a woman a little ego boost. Women are not getting the short end of the stick because we just don’t believe in ourselves enough. Our problems are not actually our own fault. We’re paid less, we’re harassed more and our rights are brought into question every time there’s an election. If your brand can do something about one of these actual problems rather than just tell us we’re beautiful no matter what, you’re on the track.

2. To that Point, It’s Not Just About Being Beautiful

By emphasizing beauty, you’re just reinforcing the idea that our looks are all that matter.

3. It’s About What You Do for Women, Not Just What You Say to Them

You can write a beautiful poem about the power of women and put it in an ad, or you can lead by example. You can pay your company’s female employees equally, give them three months of maternity leave and put women in executive positions. You can publicize this and encourage other companies to do the same. You can also make products that make women’s lives easier.

4. Focus on Real Women, Not Aspirational Women

Almost all the good ads about women’s empowerment are documentary-style, in my opinion. No anthemic excitement-fest is going to say what real women can say as well as they can.

5. Listen to Women in the Creation of Your Campaign

It shows when you don’t!

Becky Lang

4 Twin Cities Spots for Getting Your Falafel On

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During a work trip to NYC last summer, I had a killer falafel sandwich from a tiny place in the West Village. Crispy falafel and fresh veggies smothered in hummus and tahini, all tucked into a soft pita … heaven. And so I wondered, where’s some good falafel around here? Turns out, there are a lot of options!


Falafel Sandwich from Loon Deli

Loon Deli
You’ve probably driven by dozens of times thinking it’s just another sketchy convenience store and never giving it a second thought. But inside is a takeout counter with some of the best falafel and gyros around. The falafel is fried-to-order and wrapped with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and dill in a soft pita. Altogether it has a bright and fresh flavor. It’s a big sandwich, but won’t weigh you down. My personal favorite!


Falafel wrap with Jerusalem pickles from Shish Cafe

Shish Cafe
The falafel here deserves a shoutout for its big flavor. You can get it as a wrap, which is less messy, but it’s just not as good as having it in a pita. And definitely add the Jerusalem-style pickles for extra flavor.


Falafel sandwich at Wally’s

This small Dinkytown shop has flavorful falafel and the sandwich isn’t overloaded with lettuce, like some places have a tendency to do. The pita bread is nice and soft without falling apart and overall it provides a nice balance of flavors.

Trieste Cafe
Trieste is a lively little spot on the ground floor of the Lumber Exchange building, run by two Lebanese brothers (or so I assume!). One mans the register and the other chops and assembles each order with rapid gusto. The sauce is really good, and the fresh squeeze of lemon over everything is nice touch. Don’t get discouraged by the line out the door; it moves along fast!

Heather Horgen

The Pho-Files: Our Guide to the Pho ‘Round Town

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When lunchtime rolls around at Superhuman, one word comes up most: pho. There’s nothing like some hot noodle soup full of fresh herbs to warm our bellies for the afternoon.

Grant points out some of the advantages of pho. “Overall I like how the price of pho is reasonable, unlike ramen. Also it doesn’t leave me feeling as bloated and dehydrated.” Drew has been unable to stop coming up with wordplay for talking about pho. “We’ve had pho so many times in the last three months that I can’t stop coming up with puns including ‘pho’… I’m sure it’s pho-nnoying for everyone!”

Here are the notes from our quest for the town’s best pho.


The jumbo at iPho is truly as big as a sink


It’s great for pho-to opps

iPho Saigon
“The best Vietnamese restaurant in town. Minneapolis peeps are missing out if they never go to St. Paul. Everything is great here, including the service. The pho comes in four sizes, including jumbo. Always tastes fresh and the beef is sliced to perfection.” – Van

“Overall best pho I’ve had. Dumplings are solid, noodles and broth are great.” – Grant


“iPho in St Paul is easily one of my top recommendations for a great pho experiences. I went with a large, which was more than enough for me. But I instantly regretted not ordering the jumbo when I saw a huge bowl of goodness placed in front of Van. Could have gone swimming in it!  ” – Drew

“This pho was tasty and just about perfect. Loved the egg roll too.” – Becky


Chicken pho and egg roll at iPho


Chicken pho at Quang

“Probably the most well-known Vietnamese joint in town. Good pho. Quality can fluctuate. I’ve had great pho and mediocre bowls here.” – Van

“They have the best dumplings in their pho.” – Grant

“Quang is my mainstay. I love their chicken pho. I’m there at least once a week.” – Becky


Beef and lemongrass at Pho Hoa

Pho Hoa
“This is a global chain on Eat Street but there’s no locations in Vietnam. What? Really solid. Fast service. They have a parking lot.” – Van

“They have my favorite broth in the spicy lemongrass pho.” – Grant

“The spicy lemongrass pho at Pho Hoa on Nicollet is pho-nominal! Good stuff. ” – Drew

“Their egg rolls are extra good here. The chicken pho is good, but needs a good shake of hot sauce.” – Becky

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Steak pho at Bep


“Bep is a tiny place in the skyway of downtown Minneapolis with surprisingly great pho. Their pho is up there as the best in town with iPho. Rumor has it they are looking for a second location. This would be awesome as their pho needs to be unleashed on the masses.” – Van

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Pho Tau Bay

And some more deep cuts from Van’s pho-journal:

Pho Tau Bay
“Located at the end of Eat Street so it’s often forgotten, which might be why the hipsters dig this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Really good. They also have a parking lot.”

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
“This Vietnamese-French restaurant is a cool spot. Overall, great food and drinks. I asked for hoisin sauce once and they gave me a tiny bowl. I’m like ‘where da bottle?’ They fancy, huh.”

Trieu Chau
“Located in St. Paul on University Avenue, their pho is up there for one of the best in town. Really, really good. Gets busy with Vietnamese folks, which is a good sign.”

Absurdity: The Best Way for Ads to Reach Millennials?

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Justin Guarini. A cat driving a tiny car. A confused dad as “the straight man” in a suddenly pink and bubbly universe.

Some form of this equation must have been chalked up on the wall as creatives dreamt up Diet Dr. Pepper’s latest ad. It reads like the episode of South Park where they discover Family Guy jokes are written by a manatee pushing balls into a Powerball-like machine. The theory is, if we string a bunch of random pop culture references together in a bizarre way, it creates magic for millennials.

This type of advertising is nothing new. Skittles has been pioneering it for years, and many other snack brands have followed suit since. Skittles’ brand of absurdity hasn’t historically rested on celebrity guest appearances, but their latest Superbowl ad featuring Steven Tyler seemed to indicate that they are heading in that direction. Before that, many Skittles ads focused on banal but relatable moments, like awkward job interviews.

This type of topsy-turvy “situation comedy” absurdism is reminiscent of Geico ads, which Matt Damon’s 30 Rock character Carol criticized for having too many mascots.

Absurdity has been going on in advertising for a long time, but lately I’ve felt like more ads than ever are super-weird. Being a millennial, presumably the target, I have had to question what it all means about me, advertising and the world. Here are a couple guesses.

Hypothesis One: People won’t pay attention to your advertising unless it is off-the-walls weird.

There’s a lot of noise out there, and more media outlets are vying for our attention than ever before. Beyond that, people just don’t see ads that often when they’re buried in Netflix, Amazon Prime or fast-forwarding through them on regular old TV. Advertisers are getting savvy as of late and asking creators of shows to help them make ads that blend into a show, so you’re less likely to skip through. This Old Navy ad starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein captures this well.

If grabbing attention is the goal, these ads do the trick better than, say, watching Selena Gomez toss her hair in a Pantene commercial or any more typical ad. So, in that case, well done. (No hate to Selena though — you’re magical.)

Hypothesis Two: Absurdity is brand’s self-awareness taken to the next level.

Because of millennials’ general literacy when it comes to branding, the reigning approach has often been self-aware advertising. “Yes, we know this is an ad. But at least we know that, so let’s have some fun.” Watch any channel aimed at 18-24-year-old dudes and the majority of ads use this tone. Absurdist advertising takes this a step further. “We know this is an expensive production about pillowcases. Isn’t that, by nature, a bit absurd? Let’s celebrate the bizareness of this.”

This morning I saw several La-Z-Boy ads featuring Brooke Shields throwing water in the face of a guy named Demitri who didn’t believe the chairs were La-Z-Boy chairs. Compared to most furniture ads, this one is pretty funny, and it’s smart to play on its daytime TV timeslot. But at the core, it seems to be saying, “This is a commercial about chairs. Who cares. Let’s make it weird.” Gotta say, it made me laugh out loud a couple times. Thanks Brooke Shields!

Absurd / Weird Advertising: Bad or Good? (Or Does it Work on This Millennial?)

In my opinion, absurd ads can be sorted into two categories: ones where it seems like the people making them had fun, and over-engineered ones that feel forced. You can tell the people making the La-Z-Boy ad were having fun. The Justin Guarini ad for Diet Dr. Pepper sits in the gray area between feeling generally fun and feeling weird in a “safe/pandering” way. The Skittles ad falls firmly in the latter camp, in my opinion.

Engineering a bunch of random celebrities to “go viral” in an ad comes from a very different place than taking a risk with your brand and trying something different and self-aware. When we work on brands, they become very important to us. But remembering that to consumers, your brand may just be fun — and not the center of their world — can lead to some incredibly refreshing advertising. If there’s one style that’s going to dominate commercials, I’ll take gleeful absurdity over the alternatives, as long as it’s done well.

Becky Lang

Illustrating Nostalgia

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In his downtime, Superhuman Design Director Grant Wilson has been working on this poster for his son Harvey’s bedroom. Bringing together everything from Nerf balls to Lego astronauts to Jordans, the poster shows all of Grant’s favorite things as a kid.

Here’s more insight into his thinking.

What inspired you to create this poster?

I still remember going to my grandpa and grandma’s house and seeing all my dad’s childhood toys and artifacts. He had motocross trophies and a bunch of vintage toys. I wanted to make something that took all my childhood artifacts and brought them to life for my son.

Tell us about the style. Why did you choose this aesthetic?

I wanted it to be striking, visual, and colorful in a way that captured how magical and fun these items were to me as a kid.

What challenges did you overcome making this poster?

When it comes to making something for my son, I really want it to be awesome. That creates a certain amount of pressure. For all I know, he could grow up to be a tough critic.