Is it time for brands to get real?

Over the last few years, Brands everywhere have been adopting more personal and emotional narratives in their story telling. These stories have been about putting peoples life experiences first whilst the brand is happy to play the supporting role.

There are some great examples around at the moment — including Landrover’s Can and Will campaign and Pets at Home’s My Pet Moments and, of course, John Lewis’s ad style of recent years.

In all of these cases, authentic emotional bonds and relationships are centre stage and provide the basis for common ground that any consumer can relate to.  These true dramas provide situations and tales that reflect not just the brand positioning but our own lives too.  It’s an extremely powerful way for a brand to build its relevance.

But why is this approach so right for now?

For one, the growing power of consumerism forged by social media has levelled the playing field. With this massive shift in power of communication from the few to the many, people now call the shots. Brands have therefore been forced to evolve and a move to ‘real life’ stories has been seen as the next obvious step.

There is, though, another less obvious factor that is likely to be driving this shift.  Brands are waking up to the importance of the female consumer.  Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases but all recent research shows that they feel hugely disenfranchised and misunderstood by brands.  Women have an incredibly sophisticated emotional compass and reject marketing ‘hype’, so genuine real life stories can be hugely appealing to them.  In particular, they have four elements that draw ‘her’ in:

Subtlety — When talking to women it’s all about the nuances and reading between the lines. The appeal of real life stories is that they are allowed to discover the brand message rather than having it spelled out to them. Brands that understand that the world isn’t black and white show consumers respect and command more in return.

Relationships: Relationships are hugely important to women.  They respond to real-life stories that engage them, and look for connections, people, problems and experiences that they can relate to on a personal level. If you can subtly tap into women’s instincts to care and share (as in this Unilever campaign for Comfort) you will have more of a chance of succeeding.

Integrity & Authenticity: Female consumers appreciate brands that are straightforward and show things how they really are, warts and all (and with humour), creating strong emotional connections.

However, brands do need to take care. A deep recession blamed on big dishonest corporations has given birth to a new consumer who’s tired of the spin and sick of broken promises.  Brands that go too hard to emotionally connect with these consumers using ‘real people’ for commercial gain could seem false, contrived or even needy. I’m certain we’ll see more of these ads in future but it’s important that brands live their beliefs not just through real people in advertising, but also throughout their business.  They need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

About the Author

Sam Ellison_thumbnail

Sam Ellison is Managing Partner at Redshoe Brand Design.