How can our industry move the dial when it comes to more authentic representation in advertising?

By Anna Saffer on Oct 14, 2020

Knowledge is your Power campaign

Let’s be honest

If I’ve learned one thing in these past seven months that will contribute to my growth as an advertising professional, it’s that the successful delivery of a message relies upon trust in its communicator.

Almost daily, we are receiving updates from our government that directly dictate our living circumstances and physical whereabouts. The information we are given is often as unwelcome as it is essential, and its delivery should therefore be treated with the utmost respect. It’s also become apparent that misfires of authenticity in a deliverer’s intentions – for example, not abiding by the same rules they themselves set out – impacts the recipients’ trust of any message.

If we can’t communicate in a straightforward fashion, how can anyone believe what we say?

As advertising professionals, it’s our job to learn from the big issues and extrapolate the learnings. And currently, we often fall foul of similar inauthenticity.  

“Traditional advertising” in its common form amounts to product demonstration. USPs are extracted and writ large in either a direct or metaphorical way, then made creatively glamorous. It’s arty, sometimes expensive, and it sells.

But the people cast for this traditional, arguably outdated, approach are models or actors featuring as avatars for their audience. They are rarely fans of what they sell and, when done badly, this can be painfully obvious.

The rise of the influencer

Thanks to this, and an increasingly connected way of living, we have seen the rise of a newer form of advertising. Non-traditional and seamless. Reliant on digital comms, social media and sponsored influencers. Whilst people have always eagerly followed their friends and heroes, the modern world has made it easier than ever to do so. Slot a product into an influencer’s profile, and promotion no longer feels like an advert, it becomes a tip. We are not being “sold to” but “told about”.

Advertising has intertwined with real life. 

So, what’s the catch?

However ingenious this might seem, the trap of inauthenticity hasn’t gone away. We have learnt how much money influencers can earn through product sponsorship, leading to questions over whether a brand should be featured in their feed. This problem became so rife that platforms had to introduce laws so that we knew whether we were being sold to or not!

Many articles could be written on the residual value of posts that include #ad or #spon hashtags. But clearly, as consumers, we are savvy enough to identify an advert. We now actively choose what brands we engage with or buy from, we accept that brand communications are staged to make a point, and we still find ourselves turning to our peers for product recommendations.

For example, if my best friend tells me she’s tried a new serum that’s done wonders for her dry skin, and I often find myself experiencing dryness, I trust her advice so implicitly that the positive effect on my decision-making is almost instant. I’ll pop the product name in my phone notes, and it’ll be in my virtual shopping basket before bedtime. It’s the same the world over. In the US, 48% of consumers list their friends as the top influencer of their skincare purchases, only two points away from actual dermatologists.

When we worked with British cult skincare brand The INKEY List on their global launch, we took all of this on board, leaning into an authentic approach of ‘advice giving’ versus traditional promotion, highlighting the brand’s passion for skincare knowledge.

Since its inception in 2019, The INKEY List had already orchestrated one-to-one conversations with their customers using their online “askINKEY” platform. So, when it came to our campaign, we built upon this asset – it behaved like a friend you could go to for advice and had already received 40,000 questions from customers about skin and products – all of which were answered personally by the brand’s skin advisors. It was an honest and authentic platform. There was something important in that.   

Enlisting The INKEY List’s superfans

That’s why, in a world of disingenuous brand ambassadors and dependence on friendly advice, we turned to 11 of INKEY’s biggest fans. True customers – supporters of the brand since Day One – who had reached out to The INKEY List and through knowledge, found products that were right for them.

We filmed interviews with them about their skincare journeys. They spoke honestly and earnestly about struggles with their skin and how gaining INKEY’s advice had been so crucial. The films advised the viewer to start their own skincare journey via The INKEY List’s site, where we built a seamless e-commerce experience.

The campaign’s success is a testament to what I write. We had 6 million view throughs of our main video format and delivered a whopping 91.7 million impressions across the whole campaign. Smashing our KPIs to pieces.

We need to be the change

Advertising needs to be rethought as honestly advising people on what they need, not just what they want. Let’s surprise them with the truth, building a new world in which we can all trust.