An authentic image has long been important to many companies. But beyond the facade, another decisive factor is transparency.
Customers are faced with an ever-increasing choice of products and services. It is therefore not surprising that more and more consumers are making their purchase decisions based on new criteria. As a result, the advertising industry has had to respond to changing needs. Whether it is multimedia campaigns, content marketing or viral successes, millennials and generations beyond have little interest in supporting faceless companies. On the contrary, 18–34-year-olds appreciate it when a company communicates its values and, best of all, when these values reflect their own, as once again confirmed by the ‘5WPR’s Consumer Culture Report’.
Authenticity is thus a top priority. Indeed, through authentic communication, customers can identify with the product or company on a more personal level. Unlike with short-term media hype, this practice allows companies to build a longer-term relationship with their customers. In itself, this approach is not new. However, not all companies have yet realised the importance of authenticity. Here are some examples of authentic campaigns that have successfully generated a loyal customer base.
Many companies talk about the manufacturing process of their products, but very few are willing to unveil it. This is not the case with Lush Cosmetics: from 2014 to-date, it has posted short videos on the manufacture of certain products on its YouTube channels. In the ‘How It’s Made’ videos, the employees themselves explain the steps of the manufacturing process. This creates a two-fold sense of authenticity: on the one hand, this presentation helps make the products and their ingredients more transparent. On the other hand, employee inclusion makes the company more accessible. Unlike a communications expert, the unpolished workers speak with a natural simplicity that adds charm and sincerity. Finally, this format is also a new way of presenting the company’s values, both implicitly and explicitly
Values rather than products
The product itself does not necessarily have to be the focus of the campaign. Indeed, it is also possible to highlight the company’s values. Starbucks, among other examples, has embraced diversity. In 2020, Starbucks U.K. launched its “#whatsyourname” campaign, which goes beyond words. The advert shows how a transgender man is still called by his old name by his doctor, the postman who delivers his mail and his own father, even after his transition. Only at Starbucks, as is the custom of the coffee chain, is he asked for his first name and addressed by it. The message of the campaign is clear: at Starbucks, customer relations are above all humane and humanistic. For this campaign, Starbucks collaborated with Mermaids, a non-profit organisation that advocates for young people of different genders. They have also donated to Mermaids and produced other videos featuring transgender people. Only when values are transparently showcased do they appear to be authentic.
Forceful presentation of values
If it’s not followed by concrete actions, the communication of corporate values is often considered hollow. Patagonia has nothing to be ashamed of in this respect. Patagonia’s commitment to operating as a sustainable company working towards guaranteeing sustainable consumption has already resulted in countless campaigns and other projects. Its ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign is probably the most iconic. During Black Friday 2011, Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the New York Times that focused on sustainable consumption, asking customers to think twice before buying a new jacket. Patagonia’s recommendation was – and still is – to buy more second-hand clothes. But the clothing company went even further in 2019, refusing bulk clothing orders from financial and investment companies. Patagonia made it known that it without exception wished to avoid dealing with customers from oil companies, mining companies or other polluting companies. Only bulk orders from companies that met certain ethical and ecological standards were accepted. To radically reject a part of the clientele may seem surprising, but the success of its sales has proven Patagonia right.
Raising the customer’s voice
With its online shop and customer service department, the Swiss company Digitec has adopted a creative approach. Rather than responding to customers via message, Digitec has turned their feedback into advertising. In 2017, in the print media, on posters as well as on social media, they copied verbatim the customers’ reviews in the space provided on the online shop. To emphasise the authenticity of the feedback, negative reviews were also included in the campaign. In TV ads, the reviews were re-enacted by actors who also recreated entire conversations. To take this innovative concept a step further, videos were made based on the reviews of the ads themselves. Finally, and in general, Digitec’s marketing has always focused on the voice of the customer, without being embarrassed by negative feedback.
Proud to be bad
Can radical honesty be compromising? The Hans Brinker Hostel in Amsterdam has taken this bold step. In terms of being radical, this hostel is hard to beat. For more than 20 years now, the budget hotel has taken pride in being the worst in the world: this being the central pitch of each of its advertisements. Indeed, in all its campaigns, the cheap hotel focuses on the absence of amenities and services, which will never be provided. Furthermore, in 2012, the hostel clearly stated on its website that it did not accept any responsibility for food poisoning or cholera. On the one hand, flaws are celebrated with honesty. On the other, customer expectations are kept very low by this assumed exaggeration, making them easy to exceed. Judging by the hotel’s repeated campaigns, transparency taken to the extreme, coupled with a healthy dose of humour, seems to have borne fruit.
Accepting the past
Honesty can be presented in different ways: an account of one’s mistakes is one. Many companies boast about their supposedly progressive behaviour, but a self-critical and transparent look at the past can actually pay off. Admitting mistakes and demonstrating a concrete strategy to avoid them in the future is the approach chosen by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard. In this regard, the editorial team searched its archives for mistakes made in order to learn from them and grow. As part of the ‘Rewrite Your Wrongs’ campaign, De Standaard leaked old headlines on several channels, headlines riddled with discriminatory words, wrong conclusions and other prophecies that never came true. A short caption puts the headlines in context, explains the error and promises that these insights are part of a process of sincere self-criticism. This self-assessment seems to have worked in the newspaper’s favour, as it claims to have sold 6% more subscriptions. The campaign also won gold in the ‘Brand Experience’ category and silver in the ‘Press’ category at the Creative Belgium Awards 2019.