Authentic kills uplifting

Authentic kills uplifting

This holiday season, the best gift is authentic emotion.

Christmas is coming, and with it, a tide of ‘uplifting’ adverts – ‘tis the season to be schmaltzy.

Nostalgic music, trench football matches (that probably didn’t happen), cute middle-class kids with perfect parents, snow-bound streets of yesteryear and everyone’s dreams always coming true; every year ads like these win plenty of awards. It’s easy to see why. Scrooge that I am, they still bring a tear to my eye.

But at the same time, don’t these ads make you feel just a little bit uncomfortable, even as the limbic system in your brain overwhelms your better judgement with warm fuzziness?

There’s something very old-style ‘corporate’ about the emotions these ads inspire. Well-worn trickery – like sad chord progressions in the soundtrack – don’t give you ecstatic or transcendent happiness; or belly-laughter; or the genuine emotion you experience in the presence of someone you love, but the bland, vaguely upbeat feeling we’re encouraged to maintain in our day-to-day lives by so many adverts.

They are part of the good-feelings promoted by cheesy motivational speakers. They’re the marketing equivalent of the stock photos of offices we’ve all included in our websites and PowerPoint presentations, in which impeccably diverse people in pristine rooms grin inanely at each other, like hypnotic subjects told they’ve just won the lottery.

Is that what it looks like where you work? I hope not. I hope it’s anarchic, creative and a hell of a lot more fun.

Misery feels more honest compared to that kind of falsehood – but fortunately, things are changing. It’s partly a generational thing. Studies consistently show that millennials place a high value on attributes like authenticity and trustworthiness.

Customers know that adverts are, ultimately, there to sell them stuff. That’s why, according to Forbes: “Only 1% of millennials surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. Millennials believe that advertising is all spin and not authentic”. The McCarthy Group found that 84% now actively dislike ads.

Already, major multinationals are trying to deal with this by using campaigns based around the organisation’s traditions and ‘authentic’ small business heritage (like the return of Colonel Sanders in US fast food ads), or by emphasising corporate social responsibility programmes (like the Co-Operative Bank’s ads about charity work). Brand advertising that focuses on issues from gender to the environment are becoming more common.

But if brands are to reverse this lack of trust, it’s important to change the tone of the dialogue too, as well as the substance – and make it more honest. That means out with bland optimism, and away with the Panglossian “Everything is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds… as long as you buy our product.”

For example, take a look at the Real Emotions campaign launched by Häagen-Dazs, which included discussion of what is really in the food – “ice cream should be honest or nothing”. It stayed true to the brand’s previous output, aimed at making ice cream sexy, by using shots of passionate interaction by real couples rather than models to underscore the theme of authenticity.

Maybe you disagree. Maybe you like the fuzziness, at least at Christmas time. But for my part, I’d like to see a more realistic view that celebrates the world as it is – one that doesn’t rely on cheap nostalgia and manipulation, but can inspire real emotion.

Rob Coston Reporter CPL
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