I am stuck on TV dramas like For All Mankind, Billions, and Mosquito Coast. These are popular, respectable series to watch. But as much as I hate to admit it, when I secretly binge watch, I go back to The Vampire Diaries and Being Human. I know, some people are far more into the zombie apocalypse, and these folks are consumed with The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. I prefer sexy, charismatic, addictive vampires over rotting zombies. And I know I’m not alone.
What is the fascination with vampires? They’re sensual, they hunger, they’re intensely focused on the object of their desire. They’re captivating, charismatic, magnetic, hard to resist. And, they’re immortal, forever young, ever powerful, super-humanly strong. They have compelling talents to make people do what they want. Depending on the story, they can be pure evil or have a conscience, driven by lust or driven by the need to fight their impulses. They embody the best and worst of human experience and action.
A number of years ago, I was commissioned to do a branding study for Ray-Ban. We conducted a long series of focus groups among sunglass wearers to understand the place sunglasses held in the mind and heart of the consumer. While it’s true that people wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from UV rays and to see better in bright sunlight, there were more critical (and emotional) reasons to don a cool pair of shades.
Most people start wearing sunglasses in high school. Teen years are full of raging hormones with accompanying strong emotions of all kinds and hard-to-control sexual impulses. These feelings are sometimes betrayed in the eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul and all of our emotions. Flashing eyes, roving eyes, lustful glances, nervous blinking, de-focusing when bored can convey visceral messages that are not socially acceptable, not intended to be seen, yet difficult to suppress. With sunglasses, guys can check out girls in plain sight, give them the once over without being caught. Girls can hide their shyness or embarrassment or their own lust and interest.
Putting on a pair of sunglasses empowers the wearer to be seen as he or she chooses. We look “cool” and in control, confident, no matter how hot our bodies are boiling, no matter how uncomfortable we may be. Ray-Ban took this insight and turned it into a powerful brand message using the potent icon of the vampire as the wearer.
The commercial starts out in the dark. A jaunty, self-possessed vampire is making his way through Euro beach town streets. He arrogantly bangs garbage cans as he heads off to meet his friends who are sitting on a wide stretch of steps by the ocean, casually awaiting the sunrise. He sits down next to them. The sun begins to rise. They put on their sunglasses, while he hunts for his and can’t find them. We see his panicked expression as the sunlight hits and instantly vaporizes him. One of his vampire “friends” reaches into his pocket, pulls out another pair, laughs and quips in his Transylvanian accent, “Someone forgot his Ray-Bans!” All the vampires join in, laughing and baring their fangs. The functional t tie-in is heard, “Ray-Ban. For the latest in glare protection.”
In case you don’t remember it, you can see the ad here.
Sunglass wearers loved this ad then and still do today, nearly 20 years later! It understood them on a deep level and could poke fun about them at the same time, breaking the tension. These are just a few of the many comments on the ad that was first run globally in 1998:
“One of the best commercials ever made. Ray-Ban needs to bring back Ray-Ban Vampires. They're awesome”
“This is brilliant!”
“Man this is such a good concept instead of just using a vampire to get rating they like knotted the whole thing together. I LIKE IT!”
“This was the coolest commercial ever. I still wear Ray-Ban's because of it.”
“I love this commercial! it was blatantly inspired by the film the lost boys! I remember I first saw it around 1998!”
“The best commercial ever, I never forget my Ray-Ban sunglasses”
“I still love this ad the best. It even better than the Old Spice I'm on a horse commercial. I never get tired of it”
Thirteen years later, Edward Cullen, the cool vampire in the Twilight series, wears Ray-Bans. And, Stephan, the good, but smoldering vampire lover of Elena in the Vampire Diaries sports Ray-Bans when we’re first introduced to him.
The message: Ray-Bans are cool. Ray-Bans help you keep your cool. Ray-Bans are a magical guardian that protects you from the dangers of exposing your true nature — even in the brutal, unforgiving light of day. This campaign was so potent because it tells a well-known story that people can readily relate to. Various versions of the vampire story have been handed down and loved for centuries.
As an aside, it’s interesting that a Ray-Ban tagline in 2012 was “Never Hide” and now it’s “Envision the Possibilities.” The first seems counter intuitive to the insights that drove the vampire campaign launched by Bozell. The latter misses the rich emotional benefits that drive sunglass selection and loyalty.