Plato, Hemingway, and Authenticity: Rethinking what’s real
In this cross-posting from the LinkedIn agency influencer program Carat's Robert Christian argues marketers can achieve authenticity, they're just going about it in the wrong way.
It’s a hot topic around advertising because it’s what everyone’s telling us they want. The general message is our consumers have trust issues; they don’t believe the carefully curated messages communicated by (what they believe are) soulless corporations fundamentally interested only in profits.
A common reaction by marketers is to conflate authenticity with reproducing who they think their consumers are. Real people, in real places, enjoying their real freedom and celebrating their fellowship in a real community that happens to have just enough space for a product to slot nicely in. The problem with beating people around the head with all this overbearing ‘realness’ is that consumers smell a rat in seconds.
Creating authenticity, either in literature or ads, is fundamentally an act of imitation. Some bloke called Plato first figured this out a really long time ago, and his point hasn’t changed. All fiction is just pretty lies; all ads merely representations of products, never actually the literal product itself. Unfortunately, if you’re telling stories to sell ads, by definition authenticity is unattainable for you.
Plato’s solution was somewhat nuclear – ban all poets and storytellers, with whom we’ll include Adlanders. As I’m not trying to get retrenched, I’ve had to think of another way, which involves recognising that we’ve been thinking about what authenticity looks like the wrong way.
“Ultimately, brands must seek to be the Hemingway of brand narratives – make it simple, honest, and unapologetic.”
“Hi”, says Authentic Brand. “I’m a soulless corporation, fundamentally interested only in profits. However, I’ve realised that the best way to get profits is to do whatever you want me to do. For example, I see you need some Flurb. I have therefore made this incredibly good Flurb for you. As you can see, the reason I’m selling Flurb doesn’t have to be the same as reason you buy it. In the end it amounts to the same thing. I’m selling it because it will meet – indeed, exceed – your Flurboid needs, and ultimately, meeting your needs is valuable to me.”
“Woah!” Say the consumers. “That’s… that’s actually pretty reasona-”
Before they can finish their sentence, there’s a commotion at the back – what’s this? It’s a group of people trying to stay relevant!
“Hang on, hang on, hang on”, shout the Marketing professors. “We’ve told you about this! You’re spouting archaic Product Era naivete – ‘a good product will sell itself’, and so on. That hasn’t worked in decades.”
They’re right. As usual, they’re just also not up to date. The difference is today we can augment our own authenticity with other independent voices. We can amplify these independent voices to an unprecedented volume, publicly parading genuine affirmations that what Authentic Brand is claiming is true.
Collaboration with individual influencers – usually beautiful, privileged one-way conduits of aspirational fiction – is at best a marginal way to improve reach. To their credit, users are increasingly cynical of these evidently compensated endorsements. This isn’t what authenticity looks like.
Instead, real, representative members of a community should have an opportunity to experience the brand. It’s that experience that media weight needs to be thrown behind. User-Generated Content that confirms a brand’s honest message is the realest real can get in advertising. This is the fundamental premise of social sampling communities like Social Soup or more specific interest groups like Mouths of Mums.
The end result is a narrative that remains consistent no matter whether the consumer is telling the story, or the brand. These parties are at opposite ends of a transaction. Their agreement is significant, trustworthy, and yes – truly authentic.
Ultimately, brands must seek to be the Hemingway of brand narratives – make it simple, honest, and unapologetic. Those qualities will attract followings. Once you’ve got a following, you show off your new, authentic bandwagon with all your might. Next thing you know, you’re juggling Pulitzers and Nobels in a Cabana in Havana. Or whatever the advertising equivalent is. Better than being banished by Plato.
This article originally appeared on Mumbrella here, as apart of the LinkedIn agency influencer program.