“It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured.”
So says, Claire, a 15-year-old Instagrammer, in a recent article in The Atlantic that posits the end of perfection on social media. According to Claire, who uses a pseudonym because of her age, the flawlessly framed, lit, and curated images that have dominated Instagram and Facebook feeds in recent years are “generic and played out.” Taking their place are more realistic, unfiltered photos.
Reading this article got me thinking about content in general, both the kind individuals create on their blogs and social feeds—whether as a creative outlet or as a means of becoming an influencer—and the kind created by marketing content writers like myself on behalf of major brands.
Though Claire and I are two full age brackets apart—millennials and new adults between her Gen Z and my Gen X—I follow a lot of beauty and fashion brands that employ influencers like her to hawk their wares. What kind of marketing content writer would I be if I didn’t?
Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I saw Claire’s assertion come to life. It’s full of images like those she describes: millennials using photo editing tools to post glamour selfies and Claire’s next-gen counterparts posting #instagramvsreality shots.
I thought of Lush cosmetics and their recent decision to quit Instagram, which appears to be guided by the belief (likely guided by performance metrics) that perfect images don’t engender engagement.
For Lush and beauty brands like it, the line between inspiring and discouraging their audience can be hard to find. We aspire to look like the pretty people in the ads—and we believe the advertised product will help us get there—but we also want to see ourselves represented in these ads. It’s the latter desire that encourages us to participate in the community the brand creates (provided the brand has a quality content marketing team).
So let’s run with this “real is the real deal” idea that Claire puts forth. The flip side of “It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured” is that it IS cool to be authentic.
Ahhh, authenticity, that now-ubiquitous buzzword that every brand seeks but few succeed in conveying. We know what the dictionary says authentic means, but what does authentic mean in marketing; specifically, how does it present in marketing content like videos, blogs, web copy, and newsletters?
Is sharing a picture of yourself in your pajamas “authentic?” Is professing your allegiance to The Olive Garden “authentic?” Is shooting and posting a video compilation of your yoga handstand fails “authentic?”
Maybe. But if you’re a supermodel, you look awesome in pajamas. If you’re a fancy food writer, your taste is trendsetting. And if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, well, you know.
The point here—one that I have zero hard data to support but that I have arrived at after years of sociological study and work in marketing—is that authenticity is incompatible with media. Yep. I said it. (If you don’t see my writing here again, “good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”)
Why? Because authenticity is incompatible with any situation in which a subject is being observed. Sociologists call this the Hawthorne effect and define it as observation bias that occurs when a thing being studied or looked at changes its behavior because it is being studied and looked at.
Authenticity, then, is also incompatible with marketing. It’s not something we want to say out loud—the implications could put our jobs at stake—but we all know it’s true.
Customers are savvy. They know you’re a brand and not their friend, and they know that everything you share with them is an attempt to sell you something. It’s not the 1960’s, and we, as marketing and ad pros, aren’t Mad Men. The proverbial jig is up.
This reads a little doom and gloom, I know. But what I’m suggesting isn’t that marketing is dead. Rather, it’s time that we shift our focus from authenticity to transparency, to telling the truth about our products, our methods, and our goals. Doing this is easy.
Quit the constant calls to action
Stop shouting “Buy! Buy! Buy!” all the time and, instead, send an unsolicited freebie—read: an actual no-strings-attached coupon versus buy one, get one—to your loyal customers, or an email with a curated list of articles relevant to your readers.
Get real about sponsored posts
Put simply: tell the truth. If you’ve hired influencers to spread your gospel—and a lot of brands have; global ad spend on IG influencers is expected to be $5 to $10 billion by 2020—make sure they indicate that your posts are sponsored. Once a customer’s trust is broken, it’s hard to win back.
You won’t believe these before and after photos! 10 Times [insert celeb name here] Looked Killer in a Bikini! These headlines get clicks for online magazines, but they’re ineffective in marketing content. You want high-value clicks that cut through, the kind that generate leads and increase conversions. Getting those clicks requires headlines that fulfill an actual, tangible need.
Want to write better content for your brand? Contact the content writers at MarketSmiths today.