Wrapping Our Arms Around Kris Lindahl’s Divisive Ad Strategy
A city bus pulled up outside our office, and all you could see was the larger-than-life head and torso and outstretched arms of Kris Lindahl, Minnesota’s most talked-about real estate agent. This same Lindahl pose recently occupied the roof of U.S. Bank Stadium. It’s on billboards and pop-up ads that likely follow you around the internet. Loud, and uncharacteristically in our Minnesotan faces, to be sure. But what’s perhaps even more curious is the public reaction. Angry. Mocking. The outrage has even led to the creation of a dedicated Kris Lindahl category on Reddit.
Like any business investment, advertising and marketing dollars should deliver a return on investment. If your ad agency tells you otherwise, find a new one. Some might tell you it’s hard to measure how much they’ve changed sentiment or other intangibles, but those, in fact, can be measured and a value can be assigned.
In the history of ads, there are two contrasting standouts that have delivered a substantial return on investment: The 1984 Apple ad of the woman throwing a hammer, famous for its anti-establishment message, and the Menards ads made famous by pitchman Ray Szmanda and the jingle “Save big money at Menards.”
The Apple ad ran nationally just once, during the 1984 Super Bowl, but it has since been viewed more than a billion times, by academics, students, Apple fans, and anyone who has a fascination with advertising. Meanwhile, the lower-budget, more provincial “Menards guy” commercials ran thousands of times per week in nine states for decades, and loathe it though you probably did, you’re humming that indelible jingle right now, aren’t you?
We are experiencing a new local form of this persistence in Kris Lindahl’s big-arms ad, which is currently blanketing the local market. It has sparked articles, tweets and a variety of other social shaming. But it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t returning on the investment by Lindahl, whose team specializes in residential real estate. Lindahl tells me that sales at Kris Lindahl Real Estate are on pace to be up more than 50 percent over last year.
Unfortunately, we’re to blame, as human beings, for these ads. Yes, it’s your fault: We quickly grow blind to advertising messages; we filter them out digitally or cognitively. But for ads to be effective they need to get attention, so as you become better at filtering, ads have to become better at cutting through those filters. Even if the ads annoy the sensibilities of a growing population of sophisticated Minnesotans.
Brands need to tap into two base emotions, love and hate, and avoid indifference. You could say indifference is like gangrene for brands—as it grows, the brand dies. So the strong feelings you have about Kris Lindahl, thanks to his ads, is great for the brand.
I called Lindahl (whom I’ve never met) to find out how the campaign was going and whether it’s worth the wrath it’s been generating. He told me he actually uses the haters to measure early success around his campaigns. Haters are going to be louder and more visible; when they’re trending, Lindahl’s brand is growing. “When you put yourself out there like I do, there will always be people with negative things to say,” Lindahl says. “When we launch a new ad campaign and the haters start chiming in, it lets me know people are noticing the ads.”
“When you put yourself out there like I do, there will always be people with negative things to say.”
—Kris Lindahl, Kris Lindahl Real Estate
Of course, the best example of this annoying phenomenon is an international brand you might have heard of: President Donald Trump. I’ve always been opposed to the old philosophy that “any media coverage is good coverage,” but Mr. Trump is an iconic example of how it can work for a brand.
Where Lindahl’s strategy gets challenging is content fatigue. Trump has a constant stream of national and international events to fuel emotions around his brand. The Menards guy had new items on sale each week, keeping the ad content fresh. Lindahl will need to keep his content fresh or expand his style to other markets and scale his business model. Because ads exist in the content we consume each day, those that get our attention need to keep getting our attention to deliver financial results.
Which brings us to another Minnesota businessman who plastered his face all over buses: car salesman Denny Hecker. Hecker’s shady business practices, not his obnoxious ads, were his ride straight to prison, of course, and no one’s saying Lindahl is anything but aboveboard. But beware of that constant grab for attention—it might take you places you never thought you’d go.
Aaron Keller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule (capsule.us), a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.