The Razor Thin Edge of Brand Authenticity

Much has been written about the Gillette advertisement and the reaction towards it.  For those not yet seen it, here’s a reminder

Our view mirrors much of what has already been written; intentions good, execution somewhat off and missing the one thing that the last advertisement to cause such controversy (Nike & Colin Kaepernick) had: authenticity. With Nike, there was credibility to talk about the social issue; believability because we knew the link and therefore felt more authentic.

There’s a big disconnect when it comes to brand authenticity at present – it’s craved from the customer perspective but missing in brand delivery.  In the recent Edelman Trust Barometer, 48% of the U.S. population trust businesses, down 10% from 2017.  So at a time when the general population are demanding more from brands, but increasingly cynical, how and should brands wade into the waters of social issues and align themselves to purpose?

Brand authenticity sits between what a brand does and what consumers want – it’s showing the side of the brand that can transcend beyond their profit intentions, lifting the lid of how they operate, and finding a way to treat customers with respect and transparency.

We saw a great example in the States of wading into social issues (the current U.S. Government shutdown) and finding the right level of authenticity.


The challenge is the communication of the message – the pay later isn’t actually requesting workers to repay when Government reopens, Kraft asks that people donate to a charity of their choice, if they can, which in our mind, is a key call out and beautiful premise.

For every brand that gets it right, there’s the ones that get it terribly wrong.  Uber’s decision to ‘exploit’ the New York taxi driver protest over the Trump travel ban saw 200,000 #deleteUber.  At the same time, Airbnb offered free accommodation to anyone affected by the ban (completely on brand) while Starbucks promised jobs to refugees (something they can easily and feasibly offer).

Murky waters when brands are wanting to respond in real time which is why when there’s a heritage attached to the cause or issue, it’s easier to believe the brand intentions.  And while Gillette admitted they may have been speaking differently in the past, their change in conversation appeared to come out of left field.

By Paul Dixon


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