Maritini ad

Why brands need to stop happy washing to win

Anna Salda, Senior Strategist at CPB on the importance of moving away from perfection towards portraying real authenticity, to a world that isn’t perfect but that still inspires.

People crave authenticity. In brands or in people they follow on social media; 90% of Millennials say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like. 30% of them have unfollowed a brand on social media because of inauthentic content according to Stackla. And on Fohr, an influencer-management platform, 60% of influencers with more than 100,000 followers are losing followers month over month. Reason? Manicured hands on a coffee cup and other similar staged posts. Instead, meme accounts are one of the fastest growing on Instagram.

‘Authenticity’ has therefore become something pretty much every brand has been aiming for. Yet, we still see ads with happy smiles, in-love couples, perfect families or cheering with a sunset. Look at Martini or Coke ads from a couple of years ago that resemble very much those from the 60’s; happy drinkers posing with a product.

It might have worked 60 years ago. Advertising was pretty novel, it was one of the only ways to learn about something new out there and, research from CBSNews revealed that people were exposed to only 500 ads every day back then compared to 6,000 to 10,000 ads today. However, today is different and consumers don’t buy into ads in general. 84% of those aged 18-24 say they don’t like advertising according to Forbes and 43% of 13-35-year-olds hate ads so much that they have ad blockers, reveals Ypulse.

The way many brands respond to this trust challenge is by being very rational, supplying their audiences with RTBs and product-driven messages in the wish to gain their trust. The focus on such left-brained (rational) advertising as opposed to right-brained (emotional) one is something Orlando Wood warns against in his recent Achtung! IPA Research produced in partnership with Facebook. He also argues that advertising generally has leaned toward “left-brained” thinking in the past 20 years.

So in this world of decreasing trust, it’s never been more important for brands to go beyond their functional RTBs. Because words about how good your product is are simply not enough: 67% agree that a good reputation may get them to try a product, but unless they come to trust the company behind the product, they will soon stop buying it (Edelman, 2019). 

This means that in addition to your product intrinsics such as physical product characteristics and product claims, we think there are other three key extrinsically-focused ways of building trust to keep in mind.

The first way is brand and communications. From brand values to advertising to tone of voice to packaging to UX of your mobile website, it is crucial to get your brand and comms right. For example, we know that advertising that has a culturally-relevant point of view builds trust as 86% are more likely to trust brands that lead with purpose (Cone/Porter Novelli, 2019). Oatly does this right – from its commitment to sustainability to its honest and friendly tone of voice to an engaging website to advertising with a strong ‘milk but made for humans’ POV. From 2018 to 2019, the Swedish oat milk brand grew by 222%.

The second key way of building trust beyond product intrinsics is via media – i.e. the type of media you choose.According to Neilsen global research from 2019, TV is the most trusted media of all major paid advertising channels (online, outdoor, print, radio, TV and theatre). For example, Monzo, the digital only bank uses ATL media, in particular TV, to build trust and they win. They launched its first TV campaign at the end of May 2019 and by the end of June the brand had increased new sign-ups by 167% and saw awareness leap from 35% to 48%.

And the last but not least way is through internal comms and culture. We know from research that the way brands treat their employees is a key indicator of trustworthiness for consumers – 76% of them think so (Edelman, 2019). REI, a co-op outdoor retailer is not only a purpose-led brand that invests 70% of its profits annually in the outdoor community, it also takes care of its employees. For the fifth consecutive year, this Black Friday REI will pay all 13,000 employees to #OptOutside with friends and family – in addition to another few days off for staff to play outside. Result? For more than 20 years, the company has been recognised every year as one of the US top employers on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. 

 So building trust is more than just landing a functional RTB about your product or service. If you think about your brand holistically and about how some of your (or all of them) brand extrinsics can work better, then you will win consumers’ trust.

Next time there’s ‘authenticity’ in your brief, think how you can make it authentically real and have the confidence to tackle the negative head on.

Anna Salda

Brand authenticity needs to start in the real world 

The problem is that a lot of today’s advertising doesn’t acknowledge the real world and context these people live in. It portrays a world that is perfect, full of happiness and in other words unrealistic. In fact, our consumers are dealing with things such as mental health issues, loneliness, pressure to succeed, inequality, unemployment or climate change concerns. And this is where brand authenticity needs to start from.

Recent backlash against Kim Kardashian’s 40th birthday party on a private island and against her sister Kendall’s star-studded 25th birthday bash shows that people are pushing back against the manicured life, especially when life is hard.

So, brands won’t deliver authenticity without reflecting a real life in their advertising. They need to move away from smiling couples to real situations and challenges people go through.

Delivering real authenticity 

We can call it real authenticity. It’s authenticity that is well-observed; your audience can recognise themselves in it. It’s authenticity that is not afraid to tap into some negative feelings or problems the audience might have. It’s a world that is not perfect, yet it inspires.

Brands that are delivering this real authenticity are winning. 

Remember Habito’s Hell or Habito campaign? Instead of showing a happy couple getting their new house, an online mortgage broker dramatized, rather drastically, people’s real pain point, the plight of UK mortgage holders and first-time buyers. And it paid off: Habito’s spontaneous brand awareness has doubled and customer volumes are up three and a half times, says Marketing Week.

Sport England’s This Girl Can has also delivered this real authenticity, although the execution is different to Habito’s. The campaign directly addressed the real problem that was stopping women from being active: fear of judgement. How? By celebrating what women fear the most, their bodies and their sweat. It’s done in a way that makes you feel like you know someone like her or actually, you are her. As a result of this campaign, more than 2.8 million of women nationwide took part in sports.

So, next time there’s ‘authenticity’ in your brief, think how you can make it authentically real and have the confidence to tackle the negative head on.

This article was originally posted in by Anna Salda.