The best moments of clarity and inspiration often come from people/places/things outside of the expected “world” of branding.
I bought the May 2010 issue of Vanity Fair in the airport and due to a crazy trip I just never got the chance to read it. Over the holiday I found it under a stack of papers and finally poured over the feature story on Grace Kelly. If you are a big fan of hers like I am, you can read the full piece here. It has everything from some juicy details about her love life to how she still influences the costume designers for Mad Men.
But to be honest, there was really just one paragraph that hit me hard. “Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Grace (Kelly)—they were all absolute archetypes of particular sorts of beauty. They’re the end of the star system and, to my mind, more beautiful than any stars of the earlier years, and more beautiful than anything since. With the newer generations we subconsciously know there’s artifice involved. And we don’t quite believe what we see. But we did believe what we saw with Grace.”
Too much artifice. That’s why so many consumers say they do not believe their eyes anymore. How many focus groups have you done where someone asks: “is that shown true to size? is it really organic? will it have real fruit?” There is a new undercurrent against artifice causing a much-needed disruption. A demand for what is true, actual and real.
And it’s one that effects both sides of our business:
• client to agency
• client to consumer
On the client to agency side, there has been some loss of credibility and passion. Not too long ago we were concerned that procurement saw creativity as a commodity. And the heads of marketing and design would privately assure agency partners that they felt nothing but empathy and respect for us. It was the equivalent of “it’s not you…” line you use to console a jilted friend.
For a whole host of reasons, the dynamic has now changed. Today even marketers aren’t always sure the agencies are capable of doing things any better. If so, would they be asking for spec work? Or conducting a 6 agency pitch? I think it is the perfect storm of both sides being stretched so thin to make their respective businesses profitable. Deep down I think there has been some faking it on both sides.
Case in point, a slew of major Creative Directors pulled a ‘Jet Blue’ at the end of 2010 and abruptly moved on to other gigs. Reasons include: burn-out, feeling like a vendor, and attempts to go smaller and get back to doing what they really love. I think they were tired of faking it. High profile CEOs like Pfizer’s Jeffrey Kindler are also walking out and expressing similar feelings. Instead of the usual PR response of ‘focusing on family’ or ‘preparing for a new generation’, Kinder just days ago said he was leaving because he was exhausted. His departure is just the most recent.
So what are marketers doing about their messages?
Ad Age recently ran a feature about The Competitive Advantage of Truth. In this piece Baskin calls it a “truth gap.” The suggestion is that marketers have either told white lies or maybe not done anything to correct their consumers if what they perceived to be true wasn’t so. An everyday example might be when a can of spaghetti reads that it contains a full serving of vegetables, and the actual vegetable is just a tomato! Or the mascara adds that proclaim 95% of women saw fuller longer lashes with their brand and the fine print reads ‘vs. bare lashes.’ Thanks to social media, the truth is coming out.
You might remember the lovely Dove Real Beauty campaign back in 2004. That seemed to be the start of something. But the movement stopped with what is realistic about women’s bodies and did not extend to the naked truth of brands.
But now, brands like Ally bank, Domino’s and Groupon are trying to prove to us that “faking it” is in the rear view mirror. That we can trust them to no longer deceive us with the fine print, a food stylist, or a pre-negotiated wholesaler discount.
Admittedly, our business has used the word authentic a lot, but this truth trend is different. Authenticity is more about relevance/fit than truth. If Domino’s attempted to claim pizza credentials could extend to tacos or if they developed a new ornate and calligraphic logo, that would seem inauthentic. But truth is what they are chasing now – that the pictures, the ingredients, and the testimonials are real.
At first I think the power of social media intimidated some of us, but if it is not merely about the technology and it is actually a social movement to be honest and it empowers everyone — at work and at home, then how can we resist?
Below are some ads that show how marketers are trying to create a more behind-the-scenes conversation about marketing.
About the Author
Renée Whitworth is a strategic partner at Flood Creative in New York. Over the last 15 years she has developed a reputation for providing unique insights that help every facet of design come together with a singular, shared focus.