BJL Planning Director Tony Evans argues that in a ‘post-truth’ age of fake news and uncertainty, honest, straight-talking brands are stealing a march on their competitors
Fake news, data breaches, online propaganda. These days’ people are increasingly suspicious about the information they consume, and with good reason. Not a day seems to go by at the moment without some new piece of misinformation causing a scandal. The current ‘post-truth’ climate has materially undermined the public’s faith in the media, government and business.
Interestingly, as a consequence, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer identifies a revival of faith in certified experts at the expense of peer-to-peer information sharing and digital platforms. “In a world where facts are under siege, credentialed sources are proving more important than ever,” said Edelman’s Stephen Kehoe. In other words, the public is craving reliability, credibility and honesty once again.
Advertisers need to take note in this new age of distrust. Advertising has often been viewed suspiciously by the public, particularly when it makes overblown claims or relies on dodgy statistics (“All new formula!”… “New & Improved!”… “Loved by 87% of 17 people!”). And it’s not just facts that can be questioned: Pepsi’s ad last year featuring Kendall Jenner sought to present the brand as a force for good, but ended up revealing it as nothing more than fizz!
In times of uncertainty people gravitate towards things they know they can depend on. Brands that put honesty and straight-talking at the heart of their proposition are thriving in the current climate therefore, providing some much-needed reassurance to consumers who are searching for brands they can truly trust.
Honesty is one of the key insights that drives our work for Ronseal. With its iconic ‘Does Exactly What it Says on the Tin’ strapline, Ronseal has been a pioneer of straight-talking, no-nonsense marketing for decades. The line is really a sacred brand promise. Ronseal is telling customers that when you buy a tin of its wood stain or preservative, you can have certainty in the quality and reliability of the product. It won’t sugar-coat what it does, or confuse you with flowery language and advertising gimmicks. What you see is what you get.
But Ronseal is not alone in this approach and, if anything, there are many other recent examples as brands look to win the trust of an increasingly jaded public.
Take KFC, for example. An ad that aired in South Africa last year saw KFC ruthlessly parody the techniques used by other brands (“Advertising will show you a life you wish you had and somehow make our product a part of that life”) before ending with a simple bucket of chicken and the line “It’s honestly finger lickin’ good”. It was a nod to consumers that it was willing to cut out the marketing fluff and speak to them directly.
Earlier this year in the UK, meanwhile, the brand responded to a chicken shortage which resulted in the closure of hundreds of outlets with a full-page print ad that tackled the crisis head-on. By reimagining its logo to say ‘FCK’, and speaking openly and honestly about the operational problems it had encountered, KFC generated a huge amount of positive press and social media coverage – not to mention kudos from previously dissatisfied customers.
And for another brand with straight-talking appeal, look no further than Marmite. The brown, sticky paste has been a British favourite for decades, in no small part because of its ingeniously honest marketing which acknowledges that people may ‘Love it or Hate it’. People trust the brand because it’s not afraid to confront the truth about its capacity to divide opinion.
The latest Ronseal campaign, which broke over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, builds on the brand’s straight-talking credentials by acknowledging that people often see DIY as a chore that they would rather ignore. Indeed the spot uses hypnosis to suggest it might even have to resort to mind control techniques to get people to actually get round to those DIY jobs. In this campaign, the brand’s famous slogan is tweaked to ‘Do Exactly What it Says on the Tin’ to both hammer home the persuasive message and also reassert the original meaning of the line.
What unites these examples and enables them to create impact is the fact that these are not just convenient truths; they are real truths – ones that at first glance might not be easy for a brand to accept. DIY is onerous. As many people hate Marmite as love it. KFC screwed up.
Once accepted, however, they generate genuine engagement because people can see they are authentic. The honesty itself creates standout and impact. In a turbulent, post-truth age, we see it as a particularly relevant and powerful brand attribute.
Tony Evans is Planning Director at advertising and marketing agency BJL
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