Authenticity Paradox

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With the launch of Gillette’s ‘We Believe‘ campaign, which has garnered over 25 million hits in less than two weeks, the discussion has been re-opened about what it means to ‘take a stand’ in advertising. Gillette’s efforts have been both widely celebrated and widely mocked, and whether ultimately you like the message or not depends in large part on what you think their objective is:

  1. To bring to light a larger social issue, or –
  2. To sell more razors. Or –
  3. Perhaps more interestingly, both.

There is lots of outrage and ‘hot takes’ around Gillette’s motives for sure, and perhaps they’re warranted. But it brings up that overused word again so many of us are tired of – authenticity. What happens when a big brand wants to be authentic? Can a big brand truly ever have a strong Point of View (POV) given that they are often obligated, by their very nature, to be all things to all people? The short answer, I hope, is yes. Because ‘taking a stand’ these days is something we, as story-tellers, must all aspire to.

Nike did a good job of it with Colin Kaepernick. Gillette’s approach was at least a conversation starter (and Adweek has proclaimed it a success, especially in the female demographic). Patagonia does it every day. My guess is that even more brands, especially with the Super Bowl coming up, will strive for more ‘beyond the product’ socially conscious marketing. Let’s hope so.

But ‘authentic’ is a tricky word. It means opening up about our missteps, our mistakes, the struggle. It’s a hard ask, and maybe the people who were offended by the Gillette campaign just thought there wasn’t much room for improvement.

On our journey at HCF, we’re trying to imbue a bit more than just polish. The work we did with Driscoll’s, for example, resonated with over 6 million views (learn more about the work here) exactly because it took an unfiltered approach. Max calls it ‘tearing the lid off the logo’ and that’s usually a good place to start.

But there is the risk of backlash. Advocating for a good cause is subjective and could lead to boycotters and protestors or maybe, simply, your message getting misunderstood. Maybe you end up on the evening news, like Pepsi.

But my guess is we’re all a little smarter than that. Our brand is our story to a large degree, and our stories should make a difference. Selling isn’t bad. But selling out?

That’s different all together.

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