Brands That Cry Wolf: Marketing’s Authenticity Crisis

Marketing, Social Media3 Comments

One of the best stories you probably missed last year was that of the missing Panasonic Tough Lumix FT10 digital camera. Found by a fisherman at the bottom of Cowan Creek near the Hawkesbury River in NSW, it was retrieved in perfect working order, prompting Panasonic to launch a campaign to reunite the camera with its  owner.

Normally I’m a sucker for feel good stories that confirm we’re not all scum, but when I heard that Panasonic were driving the campaign, I thought it smelled fishy. And I wasn’t the only one.

While we all turned out to be wrong and the camera was legitimately lost and subsequently returned to it’s rightful owner, there was plenty of reasons for our skepticism. The same month the missing camera story broke, Panasonic had already been sprung trying to pass-off an actor as a real person in a campaign.

And who could forget Witchery and Toyota‘s botched attempts at currying favour in social media.

In each case, a brand had deliberately set out to deceive the public and when exposed, done a piss-poor job of explaining it, potentially causing long-term harm to their image and reputation.

I’m honestly surprised that in this age of openness and transparency, brands and their agencies would still engage in deceptive or misleading advertising practices. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the rise of social media is that the truth will come out and that privacy is disappearing. Brands need to remember that this doesn’t apply to the individual but to them as well and start behaving accordingly.

While it’s possible that the long-term impact to the brand is negligible since ‘it’s only advertising’ it makes the job of marketers and communicators that little bit harder when we do actually have something genuine and authentic to say when every message is either taken with a big grain of salt or dismissed altogether.

What do you think? Does advertising and marketing have a responsibility to be authentic?



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Robin Hopkinson

Good article Mal. Totally agree that brands not only have a responsibility to authentic – but it’s much smarter on their behalf too. Consumers are way too savvy to fall for some of the tricks that might have been big sellers even 5 or 10 years ago.

I was just chatting about the Get Me To Adelaide campaign. Whilst I really like the way some of this campaign was executed, the whole idea was a little try hard and reeked of being set up. I’d much rather a brand be honest and say ‘hey we’ve sent two people to check out Adelaide and report on it as a potential place to study’ rather than elude to the fact that two people won a competition to visit Australia and just happened to tour three unis and spend every waking minute blogging about their experiences. It was a great idea, but for me the lack of transparency let it down. This is especially important given their primary vehicles were online, where big users are usually more savvy.

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Robin Hopkinson

Yep – totally agree with your comment. That campaign in particular could have used the competition winners whilst they were visiting Adelaide, but then shared and reshared content from the main brand/admin twitter account after their ‘holiday’ ended rather than continuing to use the ‘real person’.

I recently read The Authenticity Hoax by Andrew Potter – well worth a look. It has a lot of background around the notion that authenticity as a concept no longer exists, yet people are desparately trying to ‘find ourselves’ and defining who we are through how ‘real’ our experiences are.

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