Get Real: Achieving Authenticity in Branded Content
Buzz. It is the all-important pot of gold at the end of a content marketer’s rainbow. Brands want their content to achieve buzz-worthy status, but they ought to careful what they wish for. Generate the wrong kind of buzz, and rainbow-filled skies can turn to stormy showers in an instant.
Take Pepsi’s social snafu from last week, for example. The now infamous Pepsi ad theoretically ticked all the buzz-worthy boxes for a piece of new media advertising (2-minute spot suited for sharing on social? Check. Mega-Influencer front-and-center? Check. Current/hip representation of target audience? Check.). However, the ad not only came under fire repeatedly for co-opting the serious act of protest to sell its product, but got crucified on social media. The irony of the ad succeeding in the capacity it sought to in the first place (to get noticed by the generation that lives on social media and have them circulate the ad through their social feeds), but for all the wrong reasons, is palpable.
Publishers, media companies, ad agencies, PR agencies, production companies, and brands are all in the rat race to be content creators, sharing on multiple platforms in an effort to appeal to the interconnected network of young consumers. But many forget that the very network that advertisers seek to have buzzing about their content has an aptitude for smelling bullshit and can turn on you in an instant. The conscious consumers that populate this network are ethically responsible, equality inclined, social warriors that wield twitter as their weapon.
So how does one appeal to the ethical sensibilities of Gen X and Y without incurring the wrath of social media? Consider not pandering to your audience and, instead, show them something genuine. Don’t mimic authenticity, simply be authentic.
Brand Storytelling interviewed Frank Igrec about We Could Be King, a film shot in partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s sought out the “real thing” in its effort to tell stories that truly represent the values of the brand, shining a light on the difficulties faced by two rival high schools in Philly who were forced by budget cuts to come together over football. It’s the result of a large effort and long process on the part of the brand, which exercises corporate responsibility by way of being a leader in supporting youth sports and education. This is more than slapping a Dick’s Executive Producer credit on a festival film - this is a genuine effort to give back to the very people who support Dick’s business.
Is fostering an ecosystem where brands support the causes that ultimately support their businesses the recipe for achieving genuine authenticity? That’s certainly one way to do it. Just look at Nestlé, Patagonia, Chipotle, Yeti, GoPro, Subaru, Microsoft, and Disney. It’s no coincidence that these brands have no problem garnering consumer loyalty and/or achieving buzz-worthy status on social media, because consumers believe in brands that project authenticity by being authentic.
Whether it's capturing the genuine spirit and ideology of the people who buy your products or exercising corporate responsibility in the form of charity or partnered projects, these brands know the truth: that simply pandering to a highly-connected audience is a recipe for disaster. To find gold at the end of the rainbow, you must be what you say you are, or say nothing at all.
Looking for more on this notion that corporate social responsibility is important to today’s young consumers? Look no further than this article from Forbes, which cites Nielsen's Global Corporate Sustainability Report. To put it simply, millennials are fed-up with interruptive ads that project a sense of self-interest and actively seek out products and businesses that project a sense of honesty, openness, and involvement in the world around them: