Since its mid-twentieth-century heyday, portrayed in the hit television series Mad Men, advertising has changed beyond recognition. Admen like Don Draper were all about brilliant ideas back then. Things were fairly straightforward once they had their idea. They only produced their ad and ran it, either on TV or in print.
That worked because when it came to the media , people only had a small range of choices. Placing an ad in a big national newspaper or on one of the biggest TV stations meant it would be seen by millions. More significantly, these media outlets were trusted by people and, by extension, the brands they publicized. But much of that has changed.
Because of their proximity to a mind-boggling variety of media outlets, today’s customers are not only more difficult to meet, they are also intensely distrustful of once-respected institutions such as newspapers and TV. For advertisers, that’s bad news, a profession second only to politicians in untrustworthiness polls.
So how do brands react to this generalized skepticism? Ok, who better to ask than Sean Pillot de Chenecey, an industry insider? Author Sean Pillot de Chenecey reveals more about the modern advertising environment in the book, The Post-Truth Business: How to Restore Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World, to see how today’s top marketers are re-establishing the reputation of brands with skeptical consumers.
Without people embracing shared realities, stable cultures are impossible. That is why it’s so crucial that the media can be trusted by people. If people don’t trust that newspapers and other outlets’ facts collected and published are valid, they are unlikely to ever negotiate, let alone agree with their fellow citizens.
However, this scheme of generating generally recognized truths has broken down. Name it the age of post-truth. For the dysfunctional media climate today, where truths are distorted and disinformation has become a growth enterprise, that’s shorthand. And what went wrong and how were we going to end up here?
The word ‘post-truth’ dates back to an essay written by the playwright Steve Tesich in the early 1990s. In response to the announcement that the US government had been selling weapons illegally to Iran to finance an anti-government rebel group known as the Contras in Nicaragua, he wrote the essay.
This was something strenuously rejected by President Ronald Reagan. Remarkably, long after the facts came out, Reagan’s followers managed to defend him. Why has it been? Yeah, feelings had evidence that were trumped. Reagan said that his heart had convinced him that the allegations were false, and for many Americans, this was good enough.
Others, meanwhile, have lost all government confidence. It was the first indication that people no longer agreed on universal scientific realities, and when people started to look for “alternative evidence” that suit their personal narratives, trust in the mass media also plummeted. In 1976, 72 percent of Americans trusted the media, according to Gallup survey data; by 2016, that number had dropped to just 32 percent.
The arrival of the internet has accelerated this trend. As a 2018 Rand Corporation report points out, countries around the world are now impacted by the so-called “reality decay”. Members of the same cultures, from the US to Germany, Turkey and India, gradually believe in fundamentally opposed accounts of truth.
This is mainly because, unlike real journalism, posts on social media are easy and inexpensive to create and are rarely, if ever, fact-checked. The results were a tsunami of false accounts that pushed political, divisive misinformation disguised as news stories that we have come to know as “fake news.” In only three months, Facebook alone found and disabled 520 million fake accounts in 2018!
Together, put all these variables and you’re left with incredibly fragile populations. In existing institutions, brands have not avoided the creation of mistrust. For example , in 2017, when 300,000 consumers in 20 countries were surveyed by the French media company, Havas Group, it found that a majority believed that some 60 percent of the content generated by companies was bad or irrelevant.
When it comes to trust, advertisers themselves don’t fare much better. Nurses and physicians are the most trustworthy occupations, according to the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index. At the opposite end of the scale? Advertising company leaders.
So if the mass media, governments and brands fear more and more people, who do they trust? Pretty much all their families and friends. This represents a significant shift from the past, when trust flowed horizontally to peers and vertically to organizations. By comparison, today, people’s trust almost entirely flows sideways.
A 2014 study by Nielsen, a data analytics firm, backs this up. It found that in 60 different nations, 83 percent of all customers trust their friends and families over advertisement. Meanwhile, McKinsey’s management consulting firm reports that a complete 50% of consumption is driven by word-of – mouth reviews from trusted peers.
For brands, that’s a huge issue, and many industry analysts say that “skip ad” buttons have become a symbol for our advertising relationship. Take it from Max Pritchard, Chief Marketing Officer at Procter & Gamble, a world-leading multinational company. He points out that on average , people spend only 1.7 seconds a day viewing commercials online and that for more than two seconds, just 20 percent of all ads are watched.
Consumers today view advertising at best as a noisy diversion and at worst as a violent act of information warfare. No wonder, then, that, despite spending about $800 billion per year, the marketing sector is delivering low single-digit growth!
But here’s the all-important question for brands: how do they meet their target audiences? Well, the old-fashioned method of exaggerating the possible advantages of different goods is being discarded by more and more businesses. That worked well back when brands and the institutions around them were trusted by consumers. However, customers should not be taken for granted these days-brands have to work to build meaningful ties with consumers and users.
What? How? Taking the government of Singapore. By using social media platforms such as TikTok and Facebook to share content helpful to the average Singaporean, such as humorous infomercials about local services and alerts about popular scams, it creates an emotional bond between people and its ‘brand’.
We live in an era of “infosmog”. Thousands of advertisements, social media posts and news reports, both fake and true, fight for our attention from the moment we wake up to the last time we check our phones or turn off the TV before bed.
This is the economy of attention, a highly competitive environment in which marketers aim to outshout their competitors in an effort to get us to hear their messages. Outcome? The growing prevalence of ad blockers designed to mute this cacophony is a messy jumble of data that most customers just can’t cope with.
We seldom remember any of their content, even though traditional advertising do get through. A legendary ad-world guru and the author of Predatory Thought, Dave Trott, reports that just 4 percent of the average ad is positively remembered. Another 7 percent is considered negative, and a whopping 89 percent is completely forgotten.
This offers a limited window of opportunity for brands to create a meaningful link with consumers. But how do you do that when advertising is already primed to distrust? Ok, here’s one approach: bring to life the relationship between the customer and the brand. In order to help agencies build impactful campaigns, this is all about uncovering the real link between a brand and its customers.
Take Microsoft. The tech giant hired McCann Erickson ad agency in 2016 to supervise its “real people” campaign. Rather than recruiting actors, the organization gave Microsoft products to ordinary computer users and educated them on how to use them. A few weeks later, they were filmed by a film crew sharing their experiences. Crucially, they were paying for their views, not for endorsements.
The result: brilliant unscripted lines like “I couldn’t do that with my Mac” from people who, even within the constraints of a 30-second spot, seemed sincere, truthful and relatable. Adidas, the worldwide sportswear brand, also stresses real relations between its products and its customers. It brings together “squads” of influencers, such as Berlin, Milan and Paris, hyper-connected skaters, musicians and soccer obsessives who are well-known in the cities they live in.
On untrackable or “dark” social networks like private WhatsApp messages, these influencers then spread the brand’s message. This generates a sense of the advent of a spontaneous cultural scene, thereby creating what advertisers call FOMO-the Fear Of Missing Out. In other words , people want the brand because it doesn’t look or act like a brand; the commercial is totally under the radar!
Check out my related post: How to tackle FOMO?