Behind The Curtain: Brand Authenticity

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” said the Wizard to Dorothy and her friends in The Wizard of Oz. Interestingly, right beforehand, Dorothy challenges him stating “If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.” The Wizard, however wanted them to focus on the spectacle of smoke and mirrors (and fire) and not reveal the truth about his power (or lack thereof). This scene could be a metaphor for the changing paradigm of how advertising works.

For a long time, brands would create big productions , whether TV spots or splashy magazine ads, for their products or services. Their aim was to grab your attention, even distract you enough from your normal life to engage you in their often larger-than-life message about how great (and powerful) their brand was.

The conversation was generally one sided. Consumers often were dazzled by the clever ads and rarely saw behind the curtain of how a brand truly was, what they believed in, or what others thought of the brand.

Today is a much different story. With the evolution of social media, brands must now be engaged in a dialogue with their customers who can voice their opinions, complaints and praise publicly, and immediately, with 140 characters or less. Further, people now care about what brands care about. In a global survey of 28,000 consumers, 63% said they only buy products and services that align with their beliefs, values or ideals. In this culture of sharing through social channels, it is important that brands are clear about what they stand for. Some brands have embedded this into the core of their reason for being, like Warby Parker or Tom’s. Brands are fully embracing their need to be authentic, as failure to do so can expose them to public scrutiny and reveal their inauthentic behavior.

A recent campaign by Dove was successful, and perceived as very authentic, using real people to reveal how they perceive themselves. While this was lauded by many, there were some critics who argued that it was not as authentic as it was portrayed. This demonstrates the challenges brands have to ensure they are as transparent as possible. The risk of being exposed is high. It was recently revealed that McDonald’s had copied an ad campaign from somebody else. This is further evidence that the curtain can easily be pulled back and brands can no longer fool consumers with smoke and mirrors. Brands need to be true to who they are and deliver on the promise being made in their advertising and marketing. In the end, brands just need to have the brains, heart and courage to be authentic.