Modern marketers and marketing methods face a daily choice between accurate representation, and aspirational presentation – pushing a product or brand as part of a certain lifestyle vs. a truthful portrayal of the realities. This is not necessarily a new challenge for the advertising sphere, but with a combination of newer platforms and vastly increased audiences (and increases in accessibility to the audience) and new presenters of media such as influencers, it’s a challenge that is particularly difficult to overcome. Famous examples like Fyre Festival, influencer marketing and innumerable failed Kickstarter campaigns are all expressions of this challenge, and the blurring of lines between aspirational content marketing and accurate representation.
The role of marketers and content creators rests in ‘selling’ – presenting a product in such a way as to persuade audiences to become customers, and so the temptation (and eventual reality) is to show off a product in the best possible light, using idealism to sell. This is also expected by most brands – who would want their offering to be portrayed in anything except the most positive light?
We can see this with modern advertising for fast food companies, beauty products and others – and all of these ads attract criticism for lack of realism or ‘real world’ thinking. This requirement from the potential customer is often missed by marketers, despite creating content intended to appeal to specific audiences and users, who feel bound to produce content designed to “sell sell sell”/not lie, but stretch the truth/present an idealised version. There can also be a disconnect between the expectations of product use from a brand, and its actual use/lack thereof from customers – which can lead to disconnect between presentation of product and user experience. “Aspirational” content can also be blind to the realities of product use, as marketers try to portray even ordinary products in an idealistic light. An example of this was when Kleenex discontinued their use of the term “man-sized” having spent the past 20 years with the man-sized tissues (read more in our blog post here)!
There is also an expectation that some responsibility rests with the user, in researching products, companies and brands before making a purchasing decision – particularly in the case of pre-sales before the product or event is actually available. However, intention & presentation of features vs. eventually delivered product can be difficult for brands to effectively communicate. Brands must have some responsibility for providing enough information so that users can make an informed decision, and should react to the impressions that their customers form (although monitoring these impressions can be difficult).
The reality is that responsibility, at least in the short term, often falls to the marketers. We must please both brand and customer base, which most likely entails the “best possible presentation” scenario for a campaign – presenting the product in as good a light as possible whilst still remaining truthful (accurate and aspirational). The quality of a marketing campaign is in crafting an accurate story that still positions the *thing* in an attractive light. The best content, particularly online, feels real and connected to both the product and genuine user experience.
The requirement for accuracy should be upheld by brands, ensuring that representations of their products are not disingenuous – and marketers should consider the brands they work with and the products that they & their practice will be associate with. Failed events like Fyre Festival provide a welcome reminder that a product must deliver, that marketers must base their content on accurate representation, and promises made by marketing material must deliver for audiences.
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