Dudley Moore’s so-honest-it’s-absurd ad campaign for Volvo in the movie “Crazy People” has been on my mind since the Digital Content NewFronts last month. The presentations exposed a trend that seems to be shaping not just digital content, but also brand voice and campaigns, emanating from social channels and expanding into all touchpoints. That trend is reality.
I’m not talking about the TV version, the reintroduction of which is largely attributed to “Survivor” and “Real World.” At the NewFronts, AOL, Yahoo, and Hulu all introduced new and returning web series based in reality. But the revelation of the digital version of reality, for me, was brought home when I combined the offerings of these incumbents with newer players like Upworthy and VICE, two rocket ships born out of the millennial desire for authenticity. Authenticity has emerged as a critical component of brand voice, and it’s largely due to consumer expectations in social.
Even highly managed digital content such as pranks ("Uncle Drew,"the “Carrie “premiere," Jeff Gordon’s disguised “test drive”) rely on real people with real reactions. This is different from force-produced TV moments in the lives of real people, restructured to accommodate reality TV’s story beats and commercial interruptions. In fact, one could argue that the entirety of the YouTube, Instagram, and Vine “star” structure is built on the back of authentic people, doing things they love to do (until corrupted by people like myself).
What’s Driving This
Millennials are driving this trend. Not a week goes by without a new research study on Millennials’ content consumption, their beliefs, their mindset, and their values. With this group’s desire for authenticity, truth of voice and truth of message are an imperative for success. It’s far better to take a stand and help define the meaning of your brand, and make an occasional error, than be saccharine and devoid of meaning or position. In fact, this audience seems to be handing out passes to those who honestly err, or those who ‘fess up openly and quickly – as opposed to those who just delete and deny.
Why It’s Important
The information age has made everything transparent -- whether brands like it or not. Everything you say and do can, and will, be found out. So you may as well come clean. Your brand must walk the talk.
It’s also important because, at least for now, authenticity is a competitive advantage. Being real is hard to do. Public displays of authenticity are rare, despite the evidence of appreciation.
Finally, combine that with the device divide -- which is, if not generational, at least attitudinal. Video consumption on mobile specifically and digital in general is increasing, but the divide means that an authentic tone will start to secure the growing digital audience.
What Brands Can Do
This doesn’t mean that brands need to run out and produce documentaries. But it does mean that when brands think about how they use social channels, create videos, and generally tell their story, they need to keep everything open and honest. Hyberbole is out, and truth is in. Vulnerability is in. Brands need to stand for something, say something, be something -- or be left behind by the next generation.