Square Debuts Second Long-Form Branding Vehicle: ‘Made in Iowa’

Square has released its second film promoting small business and entrepreneurship: “Made in Iowa.” The film, which carries no Square branding, is more than 12 minutes long.

I encourage you to watch the whole thing; it plays like a mini-documentary. It tells the story of what happens in small town America (Webster City, Iowa) when the town’s largest employer, Electrolux, pulls out. The town’s movie theater, among other businesses, is shuttered and put up for sale. People in the community come together and save the theater.

It’s a very powerful story that elegantly makes the case for small business. It’s Hollywood movie material, except it’s true. It might also make you cry.

I spoke with Square CMO Kevin Burke about the film and what Square is trying to accomplish with this unusual program. Burke said that these films are made in-house and that they’re intended to celebrate small business and convey Square’s values. Burke said “85% of our sellers outside of top metro areas; we wanted to tell stories that don’t get told.”

The first film, Yassin Falafel, is also very powerful and tells the story of a Syrian refugee who opens a restaurant. Yassin Falafel is about a Muslim immigrant; Made in Iowa is about a mostly white rural town. Both of these films humanize their subjects — at a time when both groups are demonized in public discourse.

Today CMOs are under intensifying pressure to track and justify all marketing in terms of ROI and data. Square has no such requirements for these projects. “They don’t drive to an action,” Burke explained.

This is branding at the highest level.

Burke said that Square sees these films in the “holistic” context of all their marketing and that the response to them has been enthusiastic. Each one is launched in the location it was filmed with a special event featuring Square CEO Jack Dorsey. But fundamentally the company isn’t using traditional ROI metrics in evaluating these films. They associate the Square brand with the “social values” it’s trying to promote.

Many brands have tried to address the current social and political climate in their ads, which usually come off as cynical or inappropriate (think: Pepsi). Square’s films are dignified and create empathy for their subjects. They’re sincere and not manipulative.

They also remind us why small business is so critical to the well-being of communities and the economy as a whole.

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