Brands need to embrace authenticity, particularly among younger audiences, says Sense's Alex Smith
Brands need to embrace authenticity, particularly among younger audiences, says Sense's Alex Smith
A view from Alex Smith

Blog: Advertising's authenticity problem

Thanks to Jade Goody and Jeremy Beadle, experiential can help advertising get real and closer to people's lives, says Alex Smith, planning director at Sense.

Advertising has always been in competition with entertainment media, and has always tried to copy it in order to borrow some of our attention. We’ve seen our love of movies and drama condensed into 30 second spots. Our tastes in art have carried over to print. In infomercials we see the aping of our favourite chat shows, and in advertorials a shameless camouflage of sales in the trappings of editorial.

Recently however, entertainment media has undergone a far more fundamental change to which advertising is yet to fully adjust.

It all started with reality TV. Pioneers like Jeremy Beadle and Jade Goody have now seen their art form expand, in one guise or another, to become the dominant media style we consume today. When it comes to video, YouTube has of course dramatically advanced this kind of content, but beyond that, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and services like Whatsapp and Tinder have rendered almost all we consume 'reality' in some way. What is the Facebook News Feed if not, essentially, a reality 'TV' stream of people you know?

The dominance of this kind of content has changed the tastes of the public. People are now trained to respond more favourably to 'real' content than fictional – it’s more significant because, ultimately, it actually happened. Even the more traditional media forms have sought to update themselves in order to keep up. For instance, in cinema there has been an explosion of 'reality' films, with the number of documentaries released in British theatres growing from a measly four in 2001 to 86 in 2014. They are responding to a wholesale paradigm shift.

Whereas the 20th century was defined by our consumption of slick, professionally produced 'studio' content, the 21st century has seen us move to simply consuming what’s going on in the real world. Whether it’s a YouTube video of a guy getting hit in the groin, cruising your friend’s holiday Instagram snaps, or simply responding to a text, we are now keeping it real – and so are our entertainers.

So what about advertising?

In spite of its enthusiastic adoption of new media channels, its utilisation of new media content has remained behind the curve. With its art directors, copywriters, producers et al, the industry has formulated itself perfectly to create world class studio content. Naturally therefore, the industry has tried to apply this expertise to modern channels. What this has created however, is a disconnect; a mismatch between content and delivery channel.

For example, whilst Facebook operates by drawing coverage of actual events into its feeds, brands have been treating it as a micro television or six-sheet, a place upon which to plaster studio content. The consequences have been unfortunate.

Consider this YouTube example. To view a piece of content which matches the medium perfectly – vlogger Zoella pitting her "boyfriend vs. best friend" – we are first compelled to watch an ad.

[Zoella: boyfriend vs best friend]

[Sculpting shine video]

The fact that we have to watch the ad is not an issue. What is an issue is the nature of that ad: a slick mini-movie featuring a Hollywood beauty wreaking havoc on a city street with her new lipstick. This conceit may have sat well in a cinema ad section 20 years ago, but on YouTube today?

We have found ourselves in the bizarre situation where our entertainment – the stuff we turn to in order to 'get away from it all' – is more real than our advertising – that service which purports to provide real solutions to real problems. If it was only bizarre, but still worked, that would be fine. But, it doesn’t.

Across the world we are seeing slumps in both brand closeness and brand affection. This trend is particularly pronounced the younger the audience, and the more cosmopolitan they are – in other words, the more trained they are to respond to reality. Reality which brand communications aren’t offering them.

The solution for brands is to embrace authenticity. Amongst the same audiences there is an 89% correlation between perceived authenticity and brand closeness. Brand communications need to adjust to this new reality. And that’s where experiential comes in.

This is an extract from Real World Ideas: A Guide to Modern Experiential Marketing by Sense

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