It’s all about being real
Authenticity is one of the key words in today’s branding and marketing, as I discovered these last years. Wanting to know more about this concept, I downloaded some more articles, purchased Gilmore & Pine’s ‘Authenticity’ (2007) and borrowed a copy of ‘How Cool Brands Stay Hot’ (Van Den Bergh, 2011). I highlight my key findings and show some examples I collected in an attempt to shed more light on the concept of ‘authenticity’
As Gilmore & Pine describe, authentic is what consumers perceive to be real, genuine and sincere. The word ‘perceive’ is quite important here. Firms adapt their product offer to serve clients, they fabricate products which are therefore in principle always ‘fake’. Brands and products can range from being very fake to being hardly fake, and thus perceived as authentic. Needless to say, this concept seems to be full of contradictions. The authors argue that consumers view the world in terms of real or fake, and are in search of meaningful experiences that engage them on a personal level.
In ‘How Cool Brands Stay Hot’ the importance of authenticity to youngsters (generation Y) is addressed. Van Den Bergh claims that it is not effective to stress brand origin, history and heritage in order to be perceived as authentic. Especially to youngsters, this tactic is considered an ‘advertising trick’. Authenticity should be addressed quite subtly and indirectly and instead there should be a focus on humor and irony (see examples a the bottom of this post). Furthermore, the author stresses the importance of being true (not imitating or faking), respectful, transparent, open and human.
Now we know a bit more about the concept, let’s take a look at some examples:
Dove campaign for real women (Unilever, 2004)
The Dove campaign for real women is one of the best-known worldwide marketing campaigns. Launched in 2004 it mocked the artificiality of beauty concepts in modern advertising. The campaign underlined and visualized the beauty of ‘ordinary’ women, women that don’t match the supermodel look. Note: the Unilever brand was also criticized since some of their other brands do apply idealized images in their campaigns (Axe, or Lynx as it is called in the UK). The lesson according to Michael Nutley in Marketing Week: brands no longer exist in isolation.
Kleenex ‘Let it out’ (Kimberley-Clark, 2007)
While the brand once imparted the message that Kleenex helps one retain control, the new campaign is based on the premise that Kleenex allows one to let it all out, according to Sigrid Jakob, the creator of the campaign (Adweek, 2007). In this campaign ordinary people openly tell personal stories, after they are invited to sit down on a couch somewhere in New York, San Francisco or London.
Nizza biscuits (United Biscuits, 2010)
The Dutch brand Verkade explicitly refers to the history and heritage of their Nizza biscuits brand. The TV commercial takes places in a 50s setting –with appropriate video quality and styling- and aims to humorously show that back then Nizza was quite modern and exotic. There is no fancy take-home message or claim to end the commercial, just that Nizza is now still available, in a new packaging.
‘Ik Ben verlost’ campaign (Ben (T-mobile), 2011)
The commercial features regular Dutch people and is a plea for independence and against obligations. The shots appear to be taken with a simple video camera and the participants look like they have been randomly addressed on the streets, resulting in an authentic look and feel. The message: Ben is human, independent and adheres to the same norms and values you do.
One of the first successful reality shows in Holland was the 1999 ‘Big Brother’ program. It documented all aspects of the daily life of eight regular people that agreed to live in an enclosed environment, and who had to compete in order to remain in the show and win. The show was well-received and created a media hype with its new approach of observing regular and unknown people in their day-to-day practices. This was something that was not done before on television. Viewers could identify with the participants of the show, who made mistakes, said funny or stupid things, got into arguments or fell in love. Note: There has also been a lot of criticism nowadays regarding the authenticity of reality TV. This criticism mainly regards the influence of the editors and directors, who decide on the content of the broadcast and who also pay the participants to partake in the show.
Here is a selection of some other Dutch TV shows that aim at portraying regular, or a bit extraordinary, people and their daily practices:
Man Bijt Hond: My personal favourite! The show, originally Flemish, first aired in Holland in 1998 and has the reputation of addressing current issues with a hint of irony. Different issues are discussed from the viewpoints of regular people, and gives insights into their thoughts and behavior. (Watch a compilation)
Boer zoekt Vrouw: Starting in 2004, this hugely successful show has recently concluded its fifth edition. During the show, ten Dutch farmers are filmed during their search for a husband or wife. (watch a (Dutch) promo)
Expeditie Robinson: First aired in 2000, this -originally Swedish- reality soap is successful every year. The idea is that a group of people are dropped on one or two islands and need to survive together and compete each other to avoid elimination. (watch the 2010 intro)
Hello Goodbye: This program, first aired in 2005, focuses on random encounters with people travelling through Schiphol Airport. It features their personal stories about goodbyes, reunions, love, family and friendship.
Humor and irony
To have people identify with the brand and make it more realness, often humor and irony are used:
Relating the topic of authenticity back to co-creation, the topic of my MSc thesis, I wonder how this aspect is affected. When brands collaborate with consumers, will people consider these brands to be more sincere, more honest and genuine? Does co-creation enable consumers to identify more with a brand, since it was developed by ‘people just like them’? Also, how exactly should the aspect of co-creation be communicated to the public? There is always the risk that it might be perceived as a ‘marketing trick’, how can this be avoided? Interesting topics to explore!
I am looking forward to any comments on this or examples you might have on ‘authenticity’, feel free to respond!