All marketers are liars. That’s the title of marketing guru Seth Godin’s book, dedicated to the power of telling authentic stories in a low-trust world. For ad and brand men, notorious for scripting stretched product promises, the challenge ahead is to create genuine brands and believable ad narratives.
Honesty in advertising is about not vaunting the product or its endorser as hero. Reality ads for brands such as Dove celebrate full-bodied women. You needn’t always be numero uno or beautiful to win. “We’re No. 2; we try harder,” ad-libbed Avis Rent A Car Systems Llc. And Volkswagen was once advertised as a lemon of a car, to endearing effect. Self-deprecating humour a la Matrix and Orbit ads also works well.
To get real, establish social communities that permit free exchange of opinion regarding your brand. Or celebrate the I-tribe as iPod did, but play up individualism and not selfishness in ads. Permission-based marketing can also show you care enough not to impinge on your consumer’s space.
It also pays to display a larger sense of mission and passion. Genuine ad stories are, however, not about overplaying the do-gooder role of corporate social responsibility or trumpeting patriotic messages. Hamara Bajaj rode this road well, but consumers are generally more wary of such messaging. The spate of star-spangled ads after 11 September in the US boomeranged for many brands.
A big no-no is perceived hypocrisy or conflicting messages from different brands of the same marketer. A cigarette brand crusading against pollution sounds fake. Green/organic are ad charms these days. Auto brands talking about ecological concerns can, however, sputter unless backed by product change. Meaningful names for one’s brand/offerings also cue into authenticity. Example: companies/products named after their founders or place such as the Ford Motor Co. and Champagne, respectively.
Product experience must back up advertising’s claims to create authentic brands. Coca-Cola Co. says it’s the real thing, but things went flat when it fiddled with its original formula and launched New Coke. And are the Marlboro cowboy or Levi Strauss and Co.’s all-American denim still perceived to be as real as before? Successful marketers don’t tell the truth. They don’t talk about features or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story, says Godin. “A story we want to believe. Marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and then share with our friends. Think of the iPod….”
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor.
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