Authenticity. If you work in an agency or a marketing department, you hear this word an average of 3000 times a day. You know the spiel already: we’re trying to create connections at a time when it’s difficult for people to know what’s real. Social media. Alternative facts. Online bubbles. Deep fakes. The President’s lying again. Climate change is an inside job. Cats don’t really exist.
Most of us would agree that this landscape makes it harder for customers to trust the ads they see online. But the way brands should respond to this challenge on social platforms is up for debate. Many seem to have decided to abandon creative advertising altogether, and spend their budgets on testimonials instead.
I see at least three testimonial video ads on my Instagram feed every day. And reader, I ignore the shit out of them. Don’t get me wrong – if you’ve been weighing up whether to buy a specific product for a couple of months, I can imagine a well-timed testimonial would help you make your mind up. But these videos are for products I’ve never considered buying, made by brands I’ve never heard of, advocated for by a cool-looking person who I’ve never met.
Maybe I’m sensitive. Ok, I’m definitely sensitive. But I find it patronising when brands assume that just because they’ve found someone who shares my age, gender and trouser fit who likes their product, I’m going to swoon, black out and wake up surrounded by the protein shake/teeth whitener/trainer protector they’re trying to sell me.
I have things to do. Pictures to like. Videos of baby monkeys making friends with kittens to watch. Why would I spend a second of my time watching a guy with a beard (they always have a beard) recount the time he discovered some amazing, eco-friendly dishwasher tablets?
Credibility is another issue. Many of the testimonials sound overly scripted – undermining the very authenticity they’re attempting to create. And that’s only the second most ironic thing about this trend.
The first is that if the brand had bothered to create a new, self-evidently made up story that communicated a relatable human truth, it would have felt far more authentic. Who knows? I might even have bought something.
I’m willing to accept that I might be wrong on this. If you’re a marketer who’s experienced a dramatic improvement in results since swapping creative advertising for testimonials, please let me know.
In the meantime, I’ll be advocating for scripts that make people laugh, think, wail, talk, move to Mexico, buy a hat, or just feel a little bit better about themselves for thirty seconds. You know, something authentic.
Nathan Marsden, Creative Director