The “authentic” buzzword – we’re hearing a lot of it these days. What does that even mean to “be authentic”? It seems like the statement presupposes most people aren’t being authentic. Does this mean that the average person in the business world is basically lying to you? Are they lying to themselves? If there’s all this encouragement to have authentic marketing, does that mean that most marketing is inauthentic, or basically B.S.?
My opinion is that we have to look back. If we try to understand the history of marketing, I think it helps inform why things are set up a certain way today, and why we do things the way we do. Much of our modern advertising was birthed out of the civil war and even the California Gold Rush before that. People were addicted to products that had drugs and alcohol in them and LIED about what they treated. Chinese immigrants arrived in America to seek their fortune, and, later, more were brought to California as indentured labor for the Transcontinental Railroad. Among the medicinal traditions they brought was snake oil made from the mildly venomous Chinese water snake.This is where we get the term of “Snake-oil salesman”.
Are things really that much different now? Most of modern marketing is some sort of eye-grabbing visual and message that is trying to convince you ( or manipulate you ) to spend your money. But are the same flashy tactics still working? And if yes, how long is that going to last? If that’s the way marketing started and it really hasn’t evolved too much since then, does that mean it’s the best way to market today? Naturally I think having authentic marketing is what will have the longest reliable impact. So let’s dive into it more.
At the heart of the movement to “be authentic” is something truthful and necessary. It’s a call to be yourself, be honest, real, and treat people as human beings instead of quotas in business. Is this more “sustainable” ? (another buzzword these days) Does this philosophy result in a higher “ROI”. We think it does. Information spreads all too quickly these days and the old civil war marketing tricks don’t seem to be working the same way anymore. The average person and audience needing to be reached in marketing efforts are too smart to be fooled. We know it’s B.S.. We know your commercial exaggerates. We know your product sucks. We know your company leaders don’t care. So sell us stuff anyways and make us feel good for a second so we can fantasize about it.
In Jerry Seinfeld’s Clio Award speech he says –
“I love advertising, because I love lying. In advertising, everything is the way you wish it was. I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I actually get the product being advertised, because in between seeing the commercial and owning the thing, I’m happy, and that’s all I want. Tell me how great the thing is going to be. I love it. I don’t need to be happy all the time. I just want to enjoy the commercial. I want to get the thing. We know the product is going to stink. We know that, because we live in the world, and we know that everything stinks. We all believe, hey, maybe this one won’t stink. We are a hopeful species. Stupid but hopeful.
But we’re happy in that moment between the commercial and the purchase, and I think spending your life trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy. Because a brief moment of happiness is pretty good.”
I love this speech. I love it because it’s honest. I love that a guy who always seems a few steps removed from society is just being real for a moment and I think a part of the average consumer can relate to this. So if people know that advertising is lying, and it still gets them to buy, and it makes them happy for a moment, then why change anything?
TRENDS. This thing is hot. People won’t stop talking about it. How do we stay relevant? Let’s use this influencer, make this public statement – “we stand with the trendy topic because you guys care about it so please care about us and buy from us.” Trends are always fluctuating, which is why they’re “trending” but what does that say about your company? You’re up on the trends? I mean, it works sometimes, but is it going to say anything in particular about your company, your values, your people, etc. ? Can you keep up your marketing plan week after week, month after month, chasing the latest trendy topic in order to stay in front of people? Being real with where you’re at and who you are as a company means you don’t have to worry about the trends because what you already have speaks for itself and attracts the people who speak the same language. Is that scary? Maybe.
TRUTH. Votary is all about telling meaningful stories, and this means getting into the nitty gritty of people’s lives – what drives them, motivates them, what struggles they have, what they want that they don’t have, what their goals are, etc. This is what makes a story interesting, and if any of that is false, it loses all credibility. What Seinfeld said about “advertising is lying” isn’t completely true, obviously, but I understand what he’s saying. Sticking to the truth in your marketing is an easy way to make sure nothing comes back to bite you. It’s a way to be refreshingly unique as well (which is sort of sad that telling the truth is rare) but people are craving “realness.” I think businesses and corporations are especially suffering from a few layers of misleading messaging and instead of just “coming out and saying it” they prefer to drown in lingo and jargon that doesn’t connect with people in order to seem more caring, interesting, relevant, and monumental than they really are. In order to have authentic marketing, you have to be real. The truth is usually messy or risky, and those things are a corporate leader’s nightmare. But that’s why most corporate videos look and sound the same. Talk about some conflict in your stories and marketing. Talk about some struggles that were overcome. Stop talking about the victories while failing to discuss the hardship. It’s turning people off.
TRIALS. Trials and tribulations is always a fun phrase we hear in regards to some sort of difficult task that we need to overcome. As I mentioned before, this is what people connect with. No matter who you are, you’ve been through some sort of difficult experience where you may have thought “how will I get through this?”. When someone tells a story, we’re naturally wired to connect to our own experience in that story and try to relate. We want to see how the tribulation can lead into a victory (or a tragedy).
But the trial I’m also referring to here is to TRY things. Being authentic in your marketing efforts or in everyday life doesn’t just mean speak your mind all the time and just “be natural”, or “be genuine” and that’s it. I’m not saying to abandon all professionalism, but I would say don’t remove personality from your marketing. Then try things to see what is connecting with the people who you want to work with while also staying true to who you are, what the brand values are, your personality, and where you want to go. Once you find that there’s a balance between what you can naturally put out regularly with your marketing that is connecting with the right people and is true to who you are, I think that’s the right stride to hit. When we started the Votary Podcast in 2020, that was a main goal for us. Let’s be ourselves. Let’s tell stories. Let’s not hide. Let’s try to have meaningful conversations.
Now to undercut everything I’ve written because who am I to make these claims? A Marketing Director and filmmaker for a small video production company who has no idea what complex marketing efforts and strategies you may have going for you. These are all suggestions from what I’ve witnessed, but also what I want to be a part of. I don’t really want to be a part of advertising that’s traditional and based on manipulation for profit. I’m not really interested in just checking boxes and hitting targets and making more money without doing something fulfilling. I’m also not interested in getting to know people who are like a fading shade of hundreds of other personalities I’ve met before because they don’t really know who they are. This all culminates into wanting to see more people just be real with who they are, be honest, and let organizations and businesses share that same human view. That’s what attracts me to people, and I think it’s the same with brands because they’re just made up of a bunch of humans.
A crucial detail here is in order to really put any of this in place, you have to know yourself – that’s my belief anyway. You “being authentic” may be a way of avoiding the real you, or aspects of yourself. I’m not a guru or psychologist, but I am interested in these things and I’ve got to know many many people and my job is to try to pull out the real person behind the story, suit, facade, smile, etc. It’s a habit and possibly a skill at this point. People I don’t know very well tell me intimate details of their life after I ask a few simple questions. It happens all the time. I hear “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.” It’s because what I’m genuinely interested in is who they really are. How do you figure that out? You write. You talk. You be as honest as you can be. You sit quietly. Meditate. Find out what your mind does. Write down your thoughts. Test theories and be willing to be wrong. I think the key here is we’re never really able to fully know ourselves, but we can try. Being authentic is acknowledging this and not trying to act in a way that is approval seeking first.
We find that whatever a client’s brand strategy may be, if we’re encouraging them to tell real stories and that doesn’t somehow fit with what they’re planning, then it’s probably not a great fit to work with us in general. Our own authentic marketing efforts are in hopes that we connect with people who are aiming at similar goals.
Our creative process is all about finding the strengths that already exist in an org, and then using our own creative voice to bring those things to life. Any company can hire creatives to write some sexy lingo or trendy marketing content that they hope will get clicks. But focusing on the things that your company has that nobody else has – your stories, your why, your struggles, etc. is what is going to help you connect in a genuine way while staying relevant.
Mike is Head of Marketing here at Votary, a film director/producer and a musician. He’s been a part of Votary’s origin the longest besides our founder Jed. His mind is always running and creating and flowing with ideas. His strengths are finding the truth behind a message and a person’s story as a writer and director, understanding Votary’s market and voice, as well as envisioning finished edits in detail while in the brainstorm phase. Votary’s Development process has been informed by his interview style and drive to understand storytelling framework deeper while leaving room for genuine personality, especially in documentary filmmaking. His drive comes from wanting to know people’s truest self and being able to explore pure creative expression.