Why Honesty really is the best policy

Fran Weeks, Friday February 5, 2016

I think we can all agree that nowadays we tend to take unrealistic adverts and marketing messages with a pinch of salt. For me personally, nothing turns me off a product or service more than an advert making out of reach claims. I find it just makes me feel cynical towards the product or brand and I certainly don’t take it seriously.

Aspirational or too far removed from reality?

Whilst I know there are strict guidelines in place so that adverts can’t actually lie to us, there’s no denying that most of them do feel more than a little removed from reality. To me, it just seems a little old fashioned when brands justify showcasing exaggerated or unrealistic images and messages by calling them ‘aspirational’. I’m all for inspiring audiences and I recognise the need to highlight the positives of a product in a marketing campaign – but how about a little more honesty?

Real life inspiration

Campaigns with more honest messages, promises and imagery really stand out to me and not just because they are still quite rare. They stick with me because they’re believable, showing people like me and results I too might be able to achieve. In my opinion, reality and real people can actually be far more powerful and inspiring than any so called ‘aspirational’ airbrushed photo or exaggerated claim.

Think of Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ advert, showing real women enjoying sport – it was motivational! It certainly made me consider exercise more than say, Protein World’s adverts with bikini clad models, which I found more demoralising and off-putting than anything else. Dove’s adverts featuring real women have also been very inspiring and so refreshing in an industry where the messages and images tend to be so out of reach for the average person.

Emotional connections and the benefits to brands

There are surely benefits to brands in taking a more honest approach to marketing. After all, we relate to people we feel are like us, we empathise with them and their stories. This means we’re far more likely to form that all important emotional connection to a brand. This is key because so many of our decisions as human beings are made emotionally and unconsciously, even when we think we’re making a rational choice. If a brand can reach the emotional part of our brains, we’re more likely to make a purchase, follow or be loyal. Just look at underwear brand Curvy Kate, who proudly feature real women from their audience as models. In return they receive so much love and loyalty from their target audience, who enjoy seeing women that look like them as opposed to something completely un-relatable.

Challenges for the industry

Working in PR and marketing, I do recognise the challenges that come with wanting to take a more honest approach, whilst needing to position a product in a positive light and showcase its best features. However, in the age of social sharing, online reviews and feedback scores, if you make unrealistic promises it’s likely that these will be called out anyway.

So I say it’s time we saw more real life and real people in marketing and less of the ridiculously unattainable, disguised as ‘aspirational’. ‘Honesty is the best policy’ is a familiar phrase we often teach children – my hope is that we can all keep this in mind next time we’re working on a new marketing campaign. Let’s be inspired by real life events, stories and people.

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