Advertising isn’t really known for its honesty. When you see a restaurant telling you it does ‘the best brunches in the country’, you don’t take the restaurant’s word for it and book yourself a table for two. No, you go straight to Tripadvisor or Yelp and see what ‘real’ customers have to say about it. Everybody knows you don’t take an ad at face value, because everybody knows that nobody tells the truth about their products, well not the whole truth anyway. Unless of course it’s one of those American pharmaceutical ads that love to list all the many interesting ways their drugs can kill, maim or generally destroy your sex life.
This healthy consumer cynicism has led many well-known brands to go from selling actual product benefits, to promoting a ‘feeling’. Take Coke’s ‘Happiness’ campaign for example, or their latest creative take on this strategy: Coke – ‘Taste the feeling’. This kind of emotive advertising helps to create ‘warm and fuzzy’ associations with your brand, and probably explains why 90% of the time these ads involve warm and fuzzy creatures doing adorable things, like they are here in another unsurprising Christmas hit from UK retailer, John Lewis.
These ‘branding’ expeditions may increase our affection for a brand, but do little to increase our trust in that brand. What does instil trust in anyone, or anything, is honesty. Honesty and treating our audience like an actual human being with a rational mind, as well as an emotional one.
A superb example of honesty in advertising is FCB Inferno’s This Girl Can campaign. This Girl Can was developed by Sport England to encourage 14-40 year old women to start exercising more, by encouraging them to be less self-conscious about how they look when they’re doing it. They achieved this by showing average women (note I’m saying ‘average’ not ‘real’ here, models are real people too, just saying) exercising in less than glamorous poses – the implication being, ‘yeah you probably won’t look amazing, but that’s okay’. This honest approach had real cut-through against the usual sea of ‘aspirational’ body images flogged by gyms and diet food brands, and resulted in one of This Girl Can’s videos topping viral charts in the UK. You can watch it here
UK soft drinks company, Oasis, embraced honesty too with their recently launched, ‘O Refreshing Stuff’ campaign. ‘O Refreshing Stuff, created by The Corner London, aimed ‘to offer a refreshingly honest take on the world’, with headlines like, ‘It’s summer. You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets.’ and ‘Please don’t stand in front of this poster. It cost a lot of money.’ This ‘brutally honest’ approach went down well with jaded consumers, and had cut-through with audiences and critics alike.
But then Oasis released the next stage of the campaign… The first ad featured a still image of a bottle of Oasis and a pleading voiceover explaining how they were supposed to have a huge film star for the ad, but they could no longer afford him. It was promptly ignored by viewers and labelled ‘Turkey of the Week’ by Campaign. (You can watch it here) The reason? It was no longer honest. And it was kind of boring. But mainly, nobody believed they had booked a famous film star, but his fee had gone up so they’d been left with a static image. Yes, the audience realised it was a tongue-in-cheek joke, but that wasn’t the point of the campaign. The previous posters in the campaign were also funny, but that was because they were so honest – and that was what was special about the idea, that was the hook. Somewhere along the way the agency or the client seemed to have forgotten the entire point – they had focussed on the comedy, forgetting that all the best comedy is also rooted in truth.