Why brands need to stop happy washing to win

Anna Salda, Senior Strategist at CPB on the importance of moving away from perfection towards portraying real authenticity, to a world that isn’t perfect but that still inspires.

Anna Salda

Senior Strategist Crispin Porter Bogusky


People crave authenticity. In brands or in people they follow on social media; 90% of Millennials say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like. 30% of them have unfollowed a brand on social media because of inauthentic content according to Stackla. And on Fohr, an influencer-management platform, 60% of influencers with more than 100,000 followers are losing followers month over month. Reason? Manicured hands on a coffee cup and other similar staged posts. Instead, meme accounts are one of the fastest growing on Instagram.

‘Authenticity’ has therefore become something pretty much every brand has been aiming for. Yet, we still see ads with happy smiles, in-love couples, perfect families or cheering with a sunset. Look at Martini or Coke ads from a couple of years ago that resemble very much those from the 60’s; happy drinkers posing with a product.

It might have worked 60 years ago. Advertising was pretty novel, it was one of the only ways to learn about something new out there and, research from CBSNews revealed that people were exposed to only 500 ads every day back then compared to 6,000 to 10,000 ads today. However, today is different and consumers don’t buy into ads in general. 84% of those aged 18-24 say they don’t like advertising according to Forbes and 43% of 13-35-year-olds hate ads so much that they have ad blockers, reveals Ypulse.

Next time there’s ‘authenticity’ in your brief, think how you can make it authentically real and have the confidence to tackle the negative head on.

Anna Salda

Brand authenticity needs to start in the real world 

The problem is that a lot of today’s advertising doesn't acknowledge the real world and context these people live in. It portrays a world that is perfect, full of happiness and in other words unrealistic. In fact, our consumers are dealing with things such as mental health issues, loneliness, pressure to succeed, inequality, unemployment or climate change concerns. And this is where brand authenticity needs to start from.

Recent backlash against Kim Kardashian’s 40th birthday party on a private island and against her sister Kendall's star-studded 25th birthday bash shows that people are pushing back against the manicured life, especially when life is hard.

So, brands won’t deliver authenticity without reflecting a real life in their advertising. They need to move away from smiling couples to real situations and challenges people go through.

Delivering real authenticity 

We can call it real authenticity. It’s authenticity that is well-observed; your audience can recognise themselves in it. It’s authenticity that is not afraid to tap into some negative feelings or problems the audience might have. It’s a world that is not perfect, yet it inspires.

Brands that are delivering this real authenticity are winning. 

Remember Habito’s Hell or Habito campaign? Instead of showing a happy couple getting their new house, an online mortgage broker dramatized, rather drastically, people’s real pain point, the plight of UK mortgage holders and first-time buyers. And it paid off: Habito’s spontaneous brand awareness has doubled and customer volumes are up three and a half times, says Marketing Week.

Sport England’s This Girl Can has also delivered this real authenticity, although the execution is different to Habito’s. The campaign directly addressed the real problem that was stopping women from being active: fear of judgement. How? By celebrating what women fear the most, their bodies and their sweat. It’s done in a way that makes you feel like you know someone like her or actually, you are her. As a result of this campaign, more than 2.8 million of women nationwide took part in sports.

So, next time there’s ‘authenticity’ in your brief, think how you can make it authentically real and have the confidence to tackle the negative head on.

Guest Author

Anna Salda

Senior Strategist Crispin Porter Bogusky


Anna is an experienced strategist having worked on global as well as UK-focused campaigns for brands including Apple, Google, Kinder, Nutella, Ballantine's, Beauty Pie, NHS Blood & Transplant and Anna joined CPB almost two years ago and her strategic background spans brand planning, social and digital strategies, experiential, content, and direct marketing.

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