Making Ads More Human While Competing With Reality TV

So don’t judge me for this, but I let my 7-year-old daughter watch reality TV. She loves a YouTube channel where a girl opens boxes (also referred to as a “haul”) of American Girl doll stuff that arrives in the mail. She opens a new box on every episode, explaining the contents in painstaking detail. Although I don’t understand it as my daughter does, I put it in the category of “harmless” and worry about other things.

We’re all aware of the spread of reality TV. It gets us inside the head of a “Top Chef,” or can offer us other choices, from stage moms who put false eyelashes on their 4 year olds to people who think it’s a good idea to date naked on national TV. And it does get our attention, whether we like to admit it or not.

With so many gritty, “in-your-face” images and stories bombarding us, what’s most shocking to me is the amount of advertising that still shows us the unrealistic. 



Let’s take those numerous drug commercials where we often see happy, healthy people made even healthier, of course, because of the drug being advertised. Or we see retirement ads that show a smiling couple frolicking on the beach without a worry in the world, financial or otherwise. Getty Images is probably still making money selling stock images of puppies and babies. It makes me wonder why more advertisers haven’t jumped on the reality TV bandwagon that began more than 15 years ago.

Many of this year’s Health Effie Awards winners took a more realistic, human approach to advertising and delivered that “I want-to-look-away-but-can’t” feeling we all get when watching reality TV. 

To raise awareness about skin cancer, Mollie’s Fund and agency partner Area 23’s “Free Killer Tan” offered passers-by a free tanning salon visit, and filmed their reactions as they realized that instead of going to a tanning booth, they were attending their own funeral. I cringed, physically feeling the shock the would-be-tanners had from the hoax.  

Similac and agency partner Publicis North America gave us “In Support of New Moms,” which works hard to support the many choices new parents face. I felt like I was watching a show about my own life. I remembered the countless insults I got from non-working moms because I worked. And it made me feel ashamed of the insults I spit back. Although the ad was meant to be funny, it exposed truths and emotions that hit so close to home it actually made me cry.

Ads that are more human, realistic and emotional connect with audiences on a different level. And with the average adult watching (can you believe?!) 5.5 hours of video every day, according to eMarketer, I think we’ll all be better marketers if we create content that can compete with those Kardashians.

The author served on the 2016 Final Round North American Health Effie Awards Jury.

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