Deep fakes. Bots feeding you bogus social media. Instagram influencers that only post product placement selfies. “News” organizations that really are only a front for propaganda, and the seeming inability of any politician to say anything that isn’t spin of some kind. I’m not going to debate how we have ended up here, but with the help of AI enabled tech we find ourselves in the “post-truth” world. All of the above are a symptoms of bigger problem. The problem for marketers, is when everything is assumed to be on the spectrum of falsehood, how does your brand stand out as anything but another marketing gambit? More noise, in the cacophony of fx, slick editing, and brand speak?
I think the smarter ones have embraced an old Confucian teaching. The only way to not be miserable and eventually lose the argument is to stop arguing. So, what does that look like from a video marketing perspective? It is it going to look like Alexander Skarsgård Teaches You Swedish Slang, from Vanity Fair. It’s going to look like Ethan Hawke breaking down his iconic roles for GQ. It’s going to look a little like Brie Larson doing Wired’s Auto Complete Interview. BTW – These are all great series and I recommend checking them out if you have time. The hook for all of these vehicles is that they put the authenticity of the subjects, the shoot, the content above everything else; even if that means whatever project the people are promoting is never mentioned. Just those three examples have a combined 8.3 million views on Youtube. That is because viewers are so hungry for anything that feels real that they would rather watch Brie Larson honestly answer inane questions from Google for 7 plus minutes, than a 30 sec spot promoting Captain Marvel.
A short trip around the web, and you find this new framing of marketing all over the place. Celebrities taking over people’s tinder accounts. Celebrities giving teens puberty advice. Celebs putting their hands in the fear box. All of them with a project to shill; but maybe not even talking about it.
What is it about these clips that make them work as authenticity plays? You can tell from the images above that there is a certain visual style these all share. A subject just sitting there, with a bare set (Apple monochromatic background still holding strong, even after all these years). No interviewer; so in essence a, “Hey, it’s just me here talking,” feel. Typically, no questions period, especially about whatever project they are on a press junket for, with the exception of the auto complete interview…where those topics might be searched. The editing also trends into a “documentary” territory. Instead of the typical promo shot length of around 2.5 seconds per shot, we find shots averaging 9.5 seconds or longer. All of these subtle aesthetic choices do communicate “realness” to the audience that has grown up watching hours and hours of programming. Like someone who has grown up parents speaking a different language, audiences understands these cues, even if they can’t “speak” the language themselves.
Two other crucial things to make these kinds of videos work, is the gimmick and the talent. What are you going to have them do, or talk about, that will presumably bring out their authentic selves, or reactions. There is always some gimmick to get them to muse over, talk about, explain. Tell us about an typical British day you hilarious Brits
These gimmicks range from very clever, like “Tinder Takeover” to incredibly poorly executed. TheSkimm has a series call “Texted,” which amounts to an awkward interview where the subject has to hold out a cell phone the whole time, where they are supposed to be getting texted questions? Authenticity fail. This just an interview by phone…which is why even the Marie Kondo one has only 368 views in total.
The number one secret ingredient is the talent appearing in these videos. For those of you that haven’t worked with actors, talent, or on-screen personalities, let me tell you; they are on a different plane than the rest of us once the camera rolls. It should be no surprise; but those folks do LOVE to be on camera, to be looked at, and to perform. So, that’s why it almost doesn’t matter what kind of gimmick you choose. Their energy and personality pop on screen, and that is what makes these video entertaining. And that is why this type of marketing does not work for most corporate settings. Unless you have that CEO, VP or whoever that really loves being on camera in a very unstructured way. Yeah, have not run into many of those. T.J. Miller doing a Tinder Takeover. Hilarious. Some regular shmoe taking over someone else’s Tinder, on the spectrum from boring to frightening.
How do we know this is effective? Or gaining traction in the larger marketing world? Number one, this type of counter programming has been lurking around the interwebs for at least two years. In the schizophrenic pace of the internet, that is ages. More importantly, we see these mechanism being adopted by mainstream advertisers. With mixed success.
There is the very bad, and this is a special shout out to Chevy. Everyone is familiar with these ads at this point, and they have been so ridiculed and parodied I’m not sure if they keep making these ads ironically, or if they are serious. From the “Real People. Not Actors,”graphics. To every reaction being perfect for Chevy to the all the “Wow!”s; this indeed could be real people and authentic emotion; but I’ve never seen anyone take something real and make it feel so fake.
Verizon is making a serious push at the authentic marketing with their new “Real Good Reasons” series of ads. They use all the same visual language as we discussed. Just a person there, telling their story completely white background. They even throw in some extra wide shots so you can see the grid and some of the lights in each ad, as a sort of acknowledgement, “Hey we aren’t trying to hide anything, we know this is a real person on a real soundstage and we are being transparent, cause REALNESS.
At the same time the editing has picked back up to 3 second promo pace shots, everyone looks really good (hello hair and makeup), and they are most likely being paid by Verizon to relate these stories. After what was probably an exhaustive search by the ad agency for the perfect stories. The production quality is so good, that the subconscious alarm bells in the viewers head starts to go off. I think it’s a great try by Verizon, but the “authenticity’ of it all is pretty frayed at the edges.
I think the best use of authenticity in a mainstream ad I’ve seen lately is Burger King.
For those that didn’t tune into the Super Bowl, Burger King probably had the most attention grabbing ad, that was just one long shot of Andy Warhol eating a whopper. No music, almost no titles. Jarring in juxtaposition to all the other advertising. Burger King’s marketing has been great lately, if only because they’ve proven willing to take so many chances. They had to go back in time and get a clip of artist whose been dead 30 years,(although clearly still ahead of the times) to do it; but they pulled it off. You can find plenty of articles about this ad online, and that’s because it generated so much attention. Just a guy sitting there complaining that the ketchup won’t come out of the bottle.
If the rarity of something gives it value, authenticity is trading at an all time high, in a time when lenses are everywhere, and everyone feels the need to perform. There is a saying about why real estate keeps going up. They aren’t making any more of it. In a similar way, there is no way to create authenticity. The harder you try the worse it looks.