2020 has forced many brands to think differently about their PR, marketing and advertising. As we all adhered to lockdown rules, worked from home and observed government guidelines, we started seeing greater authenticity from some organisations. This is not to suggest these organisations were in any way lying to us before – but covid restrictions meant high-budget ads or photoshoots weren’t necessarily possible and a new kind of creativity was required. Arguably, this new approach is actually more effective. Sometimes nothing is more of a turn off than overly aspirational, out of reach marketing that showcases perfection. A dose of reality can really attract attention for the right reasons.
Aspirational or old-fashioned?
Whilst there are of course strict guidelines in place so that adverts and marketing claims can’t actually lie, there’s no denying that quite a few of them do still feel more than a little removed from reality. And the lines have definitely been blurred with social media marketing and influencers, with the regulators struggling to catch up and update their rules to keep pace with the digital era.
Brands who try to justify showcasing exaggerated or unrealistic images and messages by calling them ‘aspirational’ come across as increasingly old-fashioned, especially to millennials and gen z. In 2019 research by AdAge found that a massive 79 percent of gen z will trust a company more if the images its brand uses are not photoshopped. Plus, 84 percent trust a company more if they use actual customers in their ads.
As PR and marketing professionals we still need to find ways to inspire audiences and highlight the positives of a product or service – but this must be underpinned by authenticity and accountability.
Real life inspiration
Campaigns with more relatable messages, promises and imagery can stand out so much more – and not just because until recently – they have been relatively rare. They stick with audiences because they’re believable, showing real-life, achievable results. Reality and real people can actually be far more powerful and inspiring than any so-called ‘aspirational’ airbrushed photo or exaggerated claim.
Think of the impact of Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ advert, showing real women enjoying sport – it was motivational, supportive and encouraging. It stood out for the right reasons when it first aired. By contrast, the infamous Protein World adverts attracted attention for the wrong reasons and ultimately saw the brand changing direction, with a more inclusive approach featuring real people of all different shapes and sizes. Authenticity matters and being genuine is powerful, just look at Dove’s campaigns featuring real women, which have also been well received. It’s refreshing to see this pioneering approach in an industry where the messages and images have tended to be so out of reach for the average person.
There are benefits for brands considering bringing some authenticity to their PR & marketing activity. After all, we relate to people we feel are like us, we empathise with them and their stories. And, this in turn means we’re far more likely to form that all important emotional connection to a brand, product or service. This is key because so many of our decisions as human beings are made emotionally and unconsciously – even when we think we’re making a conscious, rational choice. If a brand can reach the emotional part of our brains, we’re more likely to make a purchase, follow or be loyal. Just look at underwear brand Curvy Kate, who have always proudly featured real women from their audience as models. In return they receive so much love and loyalty from their target audience, who enjoy seeing women that look like them.
Rising to the challenge
There are challenges that come with wanting to take an authentic approach, whilst also needing to position a product in a positive light and showcase best possible results. But it’s a challenge that must be taken on and it’s arguably more important now than ever before. Brand authenticity translates into credibility. In an age of widespread mistrust of brands and authority figures, being respected, reliable and real is very valuable.
There have been so many amazing efforts in this area recently and it’s exciting to watch the brands who lead the way – like Bodyform with #wombstories and doing away with that blue liquid.
As we head into a new year, it will be interesting to see the continuation of this approach. I for one can’t wait to see more brands embracing real life stories, events and people in their campaigns.
This blog was first published on www.digitalblondemarketing.com and has been updated for 2020.