Susan Harkins

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Return to Real The Future is Authentic Marketing and Advertising 2023 Blog Article by Susan Harkins
The Future is

Individuals and businesses alike subscribe, check-in, and post nearly non-stop on social media channels, creating a blizzard of information, like a flurry of thoughts in your head, it’s up to you what you choose to do with all that snow. With the rapid prevalence of social media networks and the participation of nearly every living person on the planet – it’s no surprise that the more time people spend connected to social media, the less connected they feel to reality. When your senses are flooded with perfectly manicured content, filtered selfies, airbrushed models and posed party candids we become eager for anything bearing the slightest resemblance of reality. No one is perfect and we all know the stress of trying to be can be devastating.

In recent years we have seen many industries impacted by advancements in AI machine learning technologies. From customer service chat-bots replacing dedicated in-house customer service representatives, to AI generated articles and beyond. People are more aware these technologies exist with the release of a new AI art cartoon avatar generator app released every month of 2022. While we all have some level of fascination with the technology behind it – we are not thrilled to be presented AI generated content as if it were genuinely human and thrilled even less when the AI both threatens an already under-appreciated sector (artists, journalists, etc) and seemingly infringes on intellectual property rights.

PREDICTION: Self deprecation is back, to a healthy degree.

Owning your flaws is in – this will be reflected in design and marketing trends as well.

Think Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, or the aesthetic principal of Wabi‑sabi, appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

via CBC on GIPHY

EXAMPLE: Amazon Prime’s “Tache”

via AMAZON on YouTube

Amazon Prime debuted a new ad (above) they have dubbed “Tache” at the 2023 Academy Awards. The long cut of the ad, created by marketing house Wieden+Kennedy London, (creators of the iconic Nike “just do it” campaign) depicts a young person appearing to be having emotional distress surrounding the possibly-recent appearance of some upper-lip hair. After contemplating potential solutions to the apparent problem – no doubt acquired on Amazon – the camera then pans the room showing a series of inspiring individuals with mustachioed lips, finally settling on a Freddie Mercury bobble head clad in infamous yellow leather jacket (facsimile apparently available on Amazon). After purchasing said jacket they then saunter into their uniformed school dancing to their own personal tune (“Cool Guy” by Queen) blasting on headphones (purchased on Amazon). Blissfully unaware or perhaps no longer bothered by the awkward stares of fellow classmates, their loose white high-top sneakers squeak on the waxed floor as they execute one final dance move and plop into their assumingely assigned seat. The ad ends as the camera pans into a closeup of the young gap-toothed, red-lipped, mustachioed person’s satisfied smile as their social and self-esteem issues have now been resolved by an article of clothing (purchased on Amazon) that had the power to change their attitude about their own self image.

This ad, directed by Olivia Wilde, is tugging at the heartstrings of all those who have felt oppressed (past, present and future) by such institutions (school-based or otherwise) and society’s expectations of beauty. Speaking to anyone who has ever felt bullied or pressured to conform.

The underdog persona. A bold marketing move made in March 2023 from the powerhouse that is Amazon following the January announcement of 18,000 employee layoffs. An additional 9,000 was announced in March of 2023 after the release of the “Tache” ad. (source) Claudine Cheever, vice president of global brand marketing at Amazon said, about the ad in a statement “We wanted to inspire and remind the world that Prime caters to individuals, at any stage of life.”
Thats What I Think Episode 5 GIF By Curb Your Enthusiasm on GIPHY

Though it is my opinion that the “Tache” campaign is an entirely inauthentic depiction of what someone might be going through – it was paired well with cinematic filming, a nostalgic 80’s style bedroom, recognizable icons and catchy music, hiding behind just enough smoke and mirrors to make the average viewer relate if ever so slightly – and their target demographic to fawn over how progressive and supportive Amazon appears to be. Though the reception of this ad appears to have been positive, most articles in my research simply regurgitated the official press release about the ad from the design firm that created it. One reddit user though noted how it triggered some of their own personal pain points tied to gender non-conforming body image standards, saying that they actually felt somewhat envious of the actor; as they feel they have a similar hairstyle, complexion and gap-tooth [as the actor] and would actually love to be able to grow a mustache. 

It appears as if the team working on this campaign may have purposefully selected an actor who may be interpreted by the audience as non-binary – only then to choose to gender their character as she/her in all their press releases for the ad. It seems likely that several people signed off on the official verbiage used within the written press release for this campaign. Though the actor in the video does embrace the “Tache” by the end, when viewed from this perspective this begins to feel like a shallow attempt by Amazon to connect with gender non-conforming youth. 

A seemingly performative attempt at support for a marginalized and often vulnerable community. That may be an extreme opinion but it’s hard to think that a multi-billion dollar company and an award winning design firm (along with celebrity production credits) that the marketing team at Amazon didn’t scrutinize every detail of this commercial they debuted at such a high profile award show (that included a tribute to Freddie Mercury). I’m sure headshots were poured over to find the right selection of actors of whom might be able to fulfill this specific character role and support their overall vision of the campaign.

Ensuring your brand has an authentic voice that’s aligned with your mission goals and ethics goes a long way in establishing credibility and trust with customers.

Learn how to develop an authentic brand voice.

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Many things are easier said than done – as the doing of things intrinsically is more work than speaking – however in the case of forming an authentic voice – it’s just as easily said as it is done. In truth – being authentic is simple – it’s easy. The best authenticity is improvisational – honesty should not require a copywriter. Many small businesses are doing this better than large ones right now – as the business owner is often the face of the company and is out on the ground making connections every day. Larger businesses or even small businesses run by more introverted people achieve the same impact with brand influencers. Don’t be afraid to communicate. The most important thing to do – is to begin. So no matter what level your brand or business is at – you can leverage truth and honesty by identifying it as a core principal and voice. 

You don’t need to be a powerhouse like Amazon or an award winning design agency to craft compelling communications that are authentic to your audience and brand values. The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” may sound like an exaggeration to some but in truth imagery says more than words can even describe. Make sure your brand voice is aligned with your brand imagery for a truly organic, cohesive, and polished strategy.

Rockos Modern Life Nicksplat GIF By NickRewind on GIPHY

Bring your brand into the future and consider incorporating one or more of these elements within your next campaign concept:

  • Inclusivity + The Rise of the Underdog: The world is made up of a wide variety of people – not only do consumers connect more when seeing themselves represented within your brand – inclusivity is powerful for building a human-like relationship with your audience. Inclusivity builds authenticity (when done well). 

  • Maximalism with a Focus: Maximalism is the opposite of minimalism where more is actually more. Perhaps marketing is reflecting it’s own challenges of standing out in the eye of the consumer or perhaps it’s somewhat of a social commentary on the American capitalist consumerist culture – but maximalism as an aesthetic design choice is certainly on the rise. It can be a hard trend to balance as the idea is to go overboard without losing the core message or intent. Hierarchy and contrast are key! Pick a focus and create a theme, with shape, color, and contrast it’s a fun design challenge for any graphic designer.

    • [ Minimalism: This trend has been around for a while and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Minimalism is highly effective at establishing luxury brands in all industries once brand style is properly refined. The goal with minimalism is to remove anything that does not serve a purpose, as well as reduce clutter and visual noise in order to create an elegant look that can withstand the test of time.]

  • Recolor Your World: Monochromatic layouts have been around since before Gutenberg, marketing was most often done monochromatically or with limited color to save money on printing costs. In the age of digital you don’t need to worry about the cost of inks but the monochromatic trend has resurfaced in the last decade with vibrant color choices in almost every industry. You can find countless photos and marketing materials for clothing, skin-care, dental products, medical devices, software apps, food and beverages, and the list goes on. With this trend you may think it falls under minimalism since you’re using minimal color – however that is not necessarily the case. You could have a visual which contains many objects of the same color to create the overall composition. The key is to be conscious and deliberate with your color choice to maximize visual impact and brand recognition.

  • Bespoke Elements: Bespoke elements are made by skilled craftspeople – in this case likely a skilled graphic designer or lettering artist. Though many bespoke elements can be highly polished, sharp digital renderings the trend towards creating digital works which look hand-made, imperfect, textured or manipulated to be unique has permeated the design world in recent years. Though hiring a professional graphic designer to create your one-of-a-kind graphic is always recommended, hand drawn elements should usually be used sparingly and only if it makes sense for the brand or message. When used thoughtfully this trend helps support the feeling of authentic human interaction (as well as support actual human beings). If you can’t afford to hire your own designer but want to add a bit of this feeling to your design try finding a nice typeface to compliment your brand. Avoid using outdated “hand-drawn” typefaces that were popular in 2011 – you know the ones – don’t use them unless you’re a scrapbooking company, and even then they’re very dated. There are many resources for affordable and free open-source commercial typefaces.