Skip to main content

Authenticity vs. relatablity.

Are you being authentic enough in your marketing and advertising efforts? And - perhaps more importantly - do consumers actually want genuine authenticity, or is it just another permutation of peddling products  using the notion of an unachievable ideal?

Back in March,  Jill Byron wrote for AdAge that "in the never-ending quest for marketers to connect with millennials, authenticity continues its reign as the marketing 'it' word of the decade." Organic Valley's  "Real Morning Report" and Burt's Bees' #LoveYourNature campaigns are definitely symptomatic of this trend: all positive, empowering messaging about how great it is to embrace the real you (your best possible self and all that) over some ideal that just isn't and won't be.

The turn towards authenticity is far from new of course: Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has been around since 2004, crusading against "an unrealistic standard of beauty."

I'm not going to go into the debate over whether campaigns like Dove's (and others of its ilk) are hypocritical. You can find thought pieces on this going back at least to 2007 (like this one from AdRants, and a 2013 one from AdWorld).

What I find more interesting is this: while so many brands are going for "real" and "authentic," at the same time we have (and so many of us use) more options than ever to augment ourselves.

On the physical dimension, contouring has exploded. False lashes and extensions are becoming a make-up staple along the lines of mascara rather than a treat for special occasions. Permanent make up may date back to the 1930s, but again it seems to have become mainstream especially over the last years - especially for eyebrows with increasingly refined techniques like microblading (I haven't yet been able to find concrete stats on the rise of permanent makeup, so this is based on anecdotal evidence).

And then there are the ways to prettify yourself (and your life) without even relying on makeup. With smartphone photo filters, you don't need Photoshop to look instantly polished in photos. I've seen men in their thirties play with Snapchat lenses and exclaim (with delighted surprise) "Wow, that makes me look good." It's such a large feature of Snapchat that one of the brand's ads features a girl who chooses a lense in lieu of makeup. So - will we eventually forsake our real imperfect selves for airbrushed digital avatars?

Going beyond that, are these trends two sides of the same coin? Is the quest for authenticity actually just a new ideal, as fake as wearing make up that makes it look like you're not wearing makeup but are just effortlessly beautiful, like the actresses and models who brag about how much they love eating and are still slim - or is it genuinely about embracing one's flaws and redefining established standards of beauty and perfection?

Is the new authenticity about accepting that the "ideal" isn't actually achievable and we should make the most of what we have? Consider, for example, the Clearasil ads that celebrate and relish the fact that the brand has trouble effectively communicating with its target audience, and - by owning their shortcomings - make the brand more relatable.

So given that marketing and advertising comes down to building connections with your audience, relatability rather than authenticity seems to be the key – which campaigns like Dockers' #AllAboutDad campaign for Father's Day and Jockey's "Show 'Em What's Underneath" represent. Inspirational but still real.

PS: To add to the debate - in March, The Cut interviewed 19-year-old actress Zendaya Coleman (who's established herself as something of a spokesperson for body positivity) about how makeup fits into the authenticity debate:
Makeup has become a thing where it's an art form. It's not a thing where you use it because you need to feel beautiful or because you don't like the way you look.

Now, you do it because it's fun, because we enjoy experimenting with colors and different highlighters and contour. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It's become more fun. It's not what it once was. You know, I don't wear a highlighter out because I hope a guy is going to be like, "Oh dang, her highlighter is nice." They're not going to care.

They're not going to notice. I do it because this highlighter is bomb and I want to put it on my face and this is my face and I can choose to put on it what I want. That's what I like seeing happening.

That, to me, seems like a perfectly healthy attitude to it.


Popular posts from this blog

Stylus talk review: "The groups that will shape the commercial landscape in 2019."

Trends and insights researcher Stylus gave a presentation on  "The groups that will shape the commercial landscape in 2019"  on Tuesday, February 12 – here's my roundup (with extensive commentary). TL;DR: Interesting in terms of hearing about big and small trends (and the Zeitgeist in general), but also relatively niche and very US-focused. It was definitely about the "haves" rather than "have nots" – though that makes commercial sense I suppose. Also: I'm not entirely sold on the figures cited... Still, events like these are definitely worthwhile because with the insane amounts of information out there, anything that can shed light on what some of the distinct trends are, and where we're headed, makes the infoscape a bit more navigable. The speakers' main points: Don't just focus on Millennials and consider the "new" lifestyles which people are embracing – specifically... 1) "Supercharged Kids" Basically: the rise

Digested Read: How (Not) To Plan, Section 2.

Product, Price, Place! Introduction Marketers tend to focus overly much on Promotion, ignoring other three Ps. 2.1 Brands Can(not) Live Forever "Brands don't have life cycles," a theory which the longevity of Heinz, Kellogg's, and Hovis apparently support. "If there is any 'life cycle,' it's a brand management cycle." Phase 1: Brand launch with strong marketing support and ROI. Phase 2: Sales plateau – marketing needs to maintain and depend the brand and gets less management attention; budgets are cut. Phase 3: The cuts lead to declining sales; brand owners retaliate with price promotions which deliver short-term sales but damage the brand image (further affecting sales). The Boston Matrix of Cash Cows and Stars should be applied to categories, not brands. Checklist "Aim for brand immortality" Always invest in continuous advertising [Comment: A recurrent theme ] Share and Voice and Share of Market can help you estimate how much

Reading Raj Patel’s “The Value of Nothing” in an advertising context.

The more I read about the theory of advertising (which is plenty, thanks to my upcoming IPA Eff Test), the more it seems just inextricably linked to other disciplines. Psychology and sociology are pretty much a given – the better we understand how people’s minds and social structures work, the better we can sell to them. But there’s also a huge economic dimension to advertising. Specifically, so much of advertising relates to the process of value creation. Though my Comparative Literature course included ample Marx, Engels, Veblen, and Benjamin, it’s a concept that I’m still working to fully understand. That’s why I was very happy to come across Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing . At its core, it’s a fundamental examination of why things cost what they do – though it also goes far beyond that as the subtitle, “How to reshape market society and redefine democracy,” suggests. One of the best parts is where Patel explains why “a burger grown from beef raised on clear-cut forest should rea