Living in the digital age means that no one is ever truly disconnected for long periods of time. Human brains are hardwired to respond to validation, rewarding each scroll through a newsfeed, and each like with a release of dopamine. Social media is engineered to be irresistible. Unsurprisingly, brands have incorporated this knowledge into their marketing schemes. But the combination of an irresistible platform and brands’ awareness of this, often produces ad over-saturation. To see this in action one needs look no further than Facebook. Despite the personalised advert algorithm, each user is still flooded with promotional content, which is typical across most social media platforms. While this has multiple other ramifications, in this instance the emphasis is on the seeming impossibility of creating unique and effective advertising in the over-saturated environment.
If a consumer is rarely disconnected, and advertising is a huge part of their online landscape, at a certain point all the promotional content will begin blending into one. For businesses who rely on product differentiation to compete, this is a nightmare. This knowledge has forced companies to come up with more and more sophisticated adverts. The latest trend has been in self-deprecating advertising, which uses unbridled honesty to appeal to consumers.
Dominos, for example, launched a marketing campaign based on honesty and frankness, admitting to the fact that their recipes were no longer appealing and needed to change. Similarly, Sprite launched an ad campaign titled, “Wanna Sprite?”. The main purpose of which is to make fun of celebrity endorsements, breaking the fourth wall and showing LeBron refusing to read off a cue-card held next to the camera.
The popularity of this advertising style seems strange. The point of advertising has always been to highlight the best parts of a product or service provided by the company, and traditionally, honesty has rarely worked as a marketing strategy.
In theory, this does make sense. Honesty is a luxury of companies which provide necessities. But even necessities are so varied in the modern marketplace, that it is rarely beneficial to get rid of the adjectives and let the product speak for itself. Competition is close and constant, so it is understandable that taking risks with advertising is not a very appealing option for most brands.
And yet, for the brands who take the risk, it seems to be paying off. Dominos saw an unprecedented 14.3% growth in sales as a direct result of their re-branding. The success of this advertising style is also evident in the growth of its popularity. The customers love the refreshing promotional content, and brands develop a perception of authenticity. Consumers, in turn, feel that the honesty represents the brand’s desire to build a relationship, and are more likely to stay loyal and become frequent customers. The honesty makes customers feel that they are being treated as individuals. Traditional advertising methods, in comparison, seem like loudspeaker announcements targeting the collective.
But is self-deprecating, honest advertising a long-term trend? Unfortunately, the most likely answer is no. While it stands out against the back drop of other, unremarkable ads, self-deprecating advertising is by nature not a sustainable long term strategy. While it has the benefits of facilitating closer customer relationships and increasing trust, it is a strategy suited more for large, well-established companies looking to shake up their marketing strategies for a set time. What this does mean though, that while this style of advertising may not be suited for all companies, brands need to start looking more creatively at their marketing strategies. The success of self-deprecating advertising is a warning light, signalling that thinking more creatively is becoming increasingly necessary to succeed in marketing.
The more sustainable, long-term trend may be using social commentary or ‘relatability’ to promote your product. Long White Vodka, for example, ran a very successful campaign called “For Lovers of Less”, which addressed millennial’s anxieties about the way they are expected to live their lives. The ad manages to create the perception of authenticity without even mentioning their product, much less being honest about it. The new phase of advertising is starting to look more and more like sponsored story telling. So while jumping on the self-deprecation trend may not be the best idea for your business, thinking outside the box has never been more essential.