Honesty in marketing is more important today than ever before in the creative work we do, especially as we engage younger generations who are circumspect, mindful and resist solicitation more every day.
As advertisers, our jobs are to tell interesting, powerful stories, but often these stories lack enough truth they become distracting. Sugary soft-drinks promoted as energy-boosting, QSR’s believing they’re the crucial element of great house-party or a perfect night out; hyperbole like these, while effective in the past now ring false to anyone who engages with these products.
In today’s connected world, we have no choice but to be honest. The Internet has made sure of it. There will always be room for brilliant imaginative narratives, but when it comes to defining and demonstrating how products fit in our lives, it’s time we were more judicious. Especially when attempting to engage with generations who’ve grown up being sold and marketed to every day of their lives. These generations quickly see and reject being manipulated to think or feel something false. They know we’re trying to sell them stuff, so as soon as we can get that out of the way without pretense, they’ll be more open to considering the product.
A brilliant recent example of honesty, transparency and self-awareness directed at a younger generation is Droga5’s Clearasil campaign We know acne, we don’t know teens. And don’t forget REI’s #OptOutside campaign. Closing its doors on Black Friday, the biggest retail day of the year, shutting down its e-commerce, encouraging consumers to stay away from the shopping insanity and paying its employees to take a break from the madness was a stroke of genius from a company that truly understands and connects with its audience.
Here are a few things I do to keep things honest:
1. The Truth Is Just A Few Clicks Away. Challenge brands to be honest with themselves. Ask them: Are they really reinventing the wheel with their latest product or innovation? Or essentially selling the most recent “improvement?” Unless their claims are unequivocally true and the company’s place in the world is true, the story won’t be nearly as effective. That’s not to say a brand can’t have a motivating statement, or a brilliant story, but at it’s core it must come from a genuine truth. After all the truth is always just a Google search away.
2. Consider Ourselves Consumers. We are our consumers. We buy and use the products we sell. Or at least we should. But, we often tend to act like marketers first, ignoring our own truths of how we actually interact and use the product. I believe we should never work with a brand we wouldn’t buy or use. Additionally, the people working on a brand should be genuine consumers of it. They should make an effort to connect with consumers, and talk with them not in focus groups but personal conversations. We don’t need solutions or amazing ideas from them, just a filter to keep us honest.
3. Don’t Abuse Culture. Lifestyle is an important message for brands, especially for purchases like cars and clothes, but we can’t create a culture where there is none. Younger generations don't believe any product, no matter how high-end or exclusive, defines them. They no longer believe a brand can intrinsically change who they are as people. They look at products for what they are. Things. Coming clean and admitting that people don’t always use brands to make a statement about themselves is liberating. Products can solve a problem or just be fun, and that’s plenty.
4. Honesty Begins at Home. Finally, let’s be transparent in our business relations. Advertising has been getting a black eye lately for ambiguous practices between agencies and clients. Fortunately on the creative end transparency is not at issue, but dishonesty trickles down, creating a division and friction between clients and agencies. I believe in total transparency with clients. Building trust makes better relationships and therefore better work.
I’d wager most of the ads consumers can’t recall involve some element of dishonesty. I believe using a stricter, more honest filter on work, on our conversations with our clients, and on ourselves helps us all communicate more effectively. Younger generations are more savvy than ever. We should respect them and treat them as so. Give them credit. They’ve lived in a world of marketing for so long we can’t believe we hold all the cards — we don’t. We need to enter their world. Or risk exposure with a few simple Google searches.