In today’s advertising-intense society, many feel that there are far too many commercial messages. According to the Association of Swedish Advertisers, only 18 percent of Swedes are positive about advertising. This can be compared to 2005, when the number was 44 percent. One reason may be that we are literally bombarded with advertisements. The increasing irritation can also be due to the often clumsy craftsmanship reflected in boastful, false or infantile advertisements. The more spam we meet in our in-boxes, the higher we raise our guard. As much as 40 percent of Europeans and 45 percent of Americans use some form of advertising blocker, i.e., software that blocks advertisements on the net.1 The industry organization for online marketing – IAB – actually issues an “advertising-friendly” stamp for companies that show advertisements in a way that can reduce digital advertising overload.
As a result of this development, customers in general have become increasingly selective and, out of pure survival instinct, have become somewhat expert at quickly evaluating commercial messages. On the whole and over time, we have also developed better economic understanding of the laws of marketing logic, something that is driven by more and more people studying in fields such as media, marketing, economics and sales. Recipients understand to a greater degree that what lies behind glossy advertising is crass economic profit. Trying to deceive cynical and well-read customers with seductive advertisements is becoming increasingly difficult. They have activated their mental shields, which are difficult – but not impossible – to push through.
Addressing this development requires something other than polished copywriters that produce catchy slogans and propaganda. Instead, we see a stream where false is in increasing degrees being forced to make way for real and where affect must give way to authenticity. It is the natural and genuine that is on the advance, as a counter reaction to the superficiality of advertising. The more commercial, global and virtual permeates our world, the stronger the need for genuine becomes. It is the direct opposite to snappy advertising campaigns produced by creative advertising firms. According to an international customer survey, 86 percent of respondents indicated that authenticity is something that is important when they decide which brand they like and choose to purchase.2
The clothing producer Patagonia is a company that during its entire journey has nurtured its authenticity. From large to small, they try to make decisions that build a trustworthy brand. They invest in renewable energy, they work actively to reduce their products’ environmental impact, they contribute one percent of their revenues to different environmental movements and they take care with their working relationships with everyone in their supply chain. Things like this signal that they are a decent company, but they do more than that. They have a “Worn Wear Program” where customers can purchase used products. They also provide instructions for repairing their clothing so that it lasts longer. They have even had an advertising campaign with the text, “Don’t buy this jacket,” where they describe the negative environmental impacts of manufacturing and distribution of their products. The authenticity that Patagonia has succeeded in creating around their brand has built a loyal and growing customer base.
The concept of authenticity has many dimensions, such as simplicity, ease, and honesty. But it can also encompass things that have an attractive origin and in different ways are rooted in history. Something else that is authentic is people. People aren’t perfect, which sets them apart from emotionless computers and machines. Instead, people are experienced as being trustworthy and play an important role in building relationships – especially in a future world populated by chat boxes and voice-steered assistants. Companies can no longer act like cynical faceless institutions; they must instead offer engaged people made of flesh and blood. This is about creating an authentic identity that signals how a company thinks, acts and communicates.
Get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it. | Kristin Smaby, support manager Owl Insights
There is no actual conflict between marketing and authenticity. Quite the opposite: branding is something that really can provide an experience of something authentic. Disney is, for example, the brand that customers in the world experience as the most authentic.3 It scores up to 97 on a scale of 100 in ratings. But demands on performance are gradually increasing. The better a company becomes at claiming authenticity, the more critical customers become. As a customer one wants to ensure that every little lie and hint of a bluff has been exposed before making a purchasing decision.4 The discrepancy between the real and the alleged picture must be minimized, or preferably eliminated. “Putting glitter on shit” doesn’t work anymore.
It is not sufficient either that only the product or the service is perceived as genuine; we see increasing demands that entire companies be authentic. Authenticity must permeate a company’s entire soul, preferably tied to an engaging story. This is particularly important for large B2B companies with thousands of employees, that integrate with many customers via different channels.
From a marketing perspective, this means that sales reps must not only be correct and well-informed. They must also be passionate and live their brand. They must show that they themselves believe in what they are offering, 100 percent. The sales reps of the future must be fans of their own products and services. Because how can sales reps that don’t fully believe in their product or service themselves convince a buyer to spend money on it?
Customers today can smell false authenticity. Those who do not invest wholeheartedly and honestly but only want to sell will be ruthlessly exposed. One important point in this context is that companies that in various ways claim to be authentic are scrutinized more closely than others. And heaven help those that claim authenticity but don’t live up to the image that they convey. False authenticity is regarded as even worse than honest artificiality. This form of hypocrisy is often revealed instantly by customers and the media.
1 Mediavision (2016). Många stänger av annonsblockerare om innehållet är tillräckligt intressant. [pressrelease]. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from https://www.mediavision.se/2016/01/25/manga-stanger-av-annonsblockerare-om-innehallet-ar-tillrackligt-intressant/
2 Stackla (2018). The consumer content report: Influence in the digital age.
3 Heilpern, W. (2016, 13 April). “Ranked: The world’s top 20 most authentic brands” [blog post]. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-worlds-top-20-most-authentic-brands-2016-4?r=US&IR=T
4 Boyle, D. (2004). Authenticity: brands, fakes, spin and the lust for real life. London: Harper Perennial.