Brand are always looking for ways to get noticed. New products and flashy ads are nice, but brand identity needs to extend beyond that. We live in a world where brands need to care about their customers and provide something to the communities who buy their products. Their identities are not just about their products, but also how they interact with the greater world around them. When this identity is reflected in their marketing, brands come across as authentic presences in the world.
Many brands have incorporated a level of social responsibility into their brand identity. In doing this, they may not appeal to every customers, but they strengthen their connection with their core customers. Take Starbucks as an example. In a 2009 statement they have committed themselves to ethically sourcing their coffee and placed a focus on sustainability. Environmentally conscious customers will appreciate this effort and won’t doubt Starbucks when they claim they’re focused on sustainability. They’ve been transparent with their efforts, and there are archives of data support their claim. Other customers just don’t care, and the premium they pay for their ethically sourced coffee isn’t worth the price difference.
Authentic marketing reveals a level of truth about the brand. It allows customers to know what products are being sold, how they can use those products, and the cost of obtaining those products. This final cost is more than just the money coming out of our wallets. It includes the social impact of obtaining the goods and the damage consumers create with their purchase. With this level of transparency, customers begin to identify brand values and what it means to be a customer of that brand. If they like what they see, they’ll probably stick around.
Why Should Brands Be Authentic
At the end of the day, money makes the world go round. Without the sales and the money, a company will collapse.
Consumer behavior ranks honesty and transparency as deciding factors when customers make buying decisions. They’re more likely to make purchases from brands who are upfront and have clear policies. They also prefer brands who are going to place an emphasis on values that extend beyond the sales process.
Customers don’t want to feel like they’re disposable, and they don’t want to feel they will be replaced once they make their initial purchase. A company who’s invested in social causes aligning with customer values have demonstrated a commitment to those customers. In return, people feel good about making purchases. They know a purchase benefits more than just the company. They also feel their purchase doesn’t result in damage, so when the time comes, they make that purchase again.
As companies being to notice customers’ interests in social causes and ethical products, they have make it a point to incorporate those aspects of their identity into their branding. A company who does this well can receive praise, even making philanthropy pivotal to their identity. When this is done poorly, the brand will suffer backlash.
Finding Authenticity In Soda
People around the globe have been aware of the “Cola Wars” for upwards of a century. This battle fought between Coke and Pepsi has seen the two brand compete for the same customers in a variety of fashions. Over the past decade, as young Americans have a bigger influence on consumer culture, both brands have tried to align their marketing with millennial values. While it is possible to align with the values of a younger generation, it is also possible to miss the mark entirely.
Pepsi & The Case of Inauthenticity
It seems obvious that customers want to connect with a brand, and brands want to establish connections with their customers. What happens when that gets taken too far? Pepsi received some serious backlash for their attempt at connecting with cool, young American who are socially conscious. In the advertisement, Kendall Jenner can be seen joining in a protest. What are they protesting? No one knows, but in the Black Lives Matterclimate, using an arbitrary protest as a background seems tone deaf.
A Pepsi spokesperson with CNN and and said the intent of the ad was to showcase “people from different walks of life coming together in the spirit of harmony.” This sentiment sounds nice, when I think of Pepsi advertisements I don’t think of the spirit of unity. I think of big shows, like the Super Bowl Half Time Show or the Beyonce showing up at a gas station. Pepsi has never been political, and Kendall Jenner was not going to solve the world’s problem with a can of Pepsi.
As a brand, Pepsi faced backlash that’s still felt to this day. Kendall Jenner’s ad still sits on the first page of Google’s search results for “Pepsi.” They wanted to align with the changing priorities of young Americans, and it was a risk; one they’re still paying for. Pepsi never took a side in their self-created protest, they trivialized real life issues, and their ad’s tone was entirely contradictory to prior brand messaging. If you weren’t offended by this ad, you were probably laughing at the desperate attempt for Pepsi to seem cool.
Coke Unites People Authentically
Pepsi’s blunder was likely a response to another brand who has unified the world with cola. Coca Cola is one of the world’s most recognized brands, and they leverage this fact in their advertising. In recent years, it has been reported that more than 94% of the world’s population recognizes the Coca Cola brand. In years past, the brand has sung from the hills proclaiming “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” Their advertising they focus on the fact that people across all walks of life have a common taste for Coke, not that Coke will solve the world’s problems.
Coca Cola has portrayed unity over a glass of Coke for years. In more recent years, they introduced their “Share a Coke With…” campaign. All bottles of Coke had either a name on it, or a general relationship term such as “friend,” “sister,” or “teammate.” In doing this, Coke hoped to unite consumers over a share interest: Coke. In the same way people talk over a cup of coffee, people could start conversations by sharing a personalized bottle of Coke.
This campaign was successful because it didn’t oversell Coke’s ability to unite people. It emphasized the one-on-one relationships people could establish and used Coke as middleman connecting two people. Coke never claimed it could solve any problems, nor did they put their product in an unrealistic environment. Instead, they highlighted something completely plausible and realistic. People can share bottle of Coke, and conversations can occur over a class of Coke. These small gestures and provide more unity than the grand gesture Pepsi displayed with Kendall Jenner because these small gestures will actually happen.
Coke stuck with values they’ve always portrayed in their advertising without overemphasized the power of their beverage. Their advertising portrays taste as a universal language. As a globally recognized brand, people from all over the world can share their love of the beverage. The “Share” campaign was an extension of their preexisting and effective advertising.
Where Authenticity Works
We all know someone who will pay a premium for the name brand. This is because the brand has an established history that serves the customer and makes the customer feel valued when they make product decisions.
When it comes to maintaining relationships with customers or attracting new customers, brands need to establish an identity and align their marketing toward them. When brands have successful campaigns, their marketing is connecting with their customers and the customer’s values. This is where authentic marketing work: customers have values, brands have values, the two connect and a relationship is built.
Brands are going to expand their identities and incorporate new values into their mission. This is an expected in any evolution, but when that expansion fails to reflect the values of existing customers the brand is losing its authenticity. This is how Pepsi failed. Their advertisement was really a collection of buzzwords like “protest” and “Kendall Jenner” thrown together with no substance. No one can connect to this, and customers don’t feel their views are reflected in this ad.
Is this a bad thing? We hold companies to a standard higher than just making sales. Consumers now believe brands should walk the walk when it come to their marketing. If a company want to tell us it can unite the world, show us know how it’ll accomplish that.
Of course, Coke and Pepsi have long histories of selling their beverages. This includes a lot of marketing, a lot of successes, and just as many failures. For Pepsi, their Kendall Jenner ad has been one of their biggest blunders in recent history. It didn’t kill the brand, but it raised a few eyebrows. On the other hand, Coke marketed itself one bottle at a time. This showed the power of personal connection and allowed their beverage to be the starting point for conversations.
Authenticity has become more and more prominent in the advertising world. Without an awareness of customer values, it is easy for customers to replace one brand with another. When brands to align with customer values, they begin to build loyalty. The more brands can show they’re worthy of loyalty, more loyal customers will flock to them.
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