We all hear the same buzzwords in every meeting we sit down in. We all say the same buzzwords, including them in our PowerPoint presentations and word clouds. But in this industry, I think we can all agree that sure, ‘authentic’ has become a buzzword we all know we’re supposed to say – but is anyone actually doing authentic marketing?
The idea that ‘real people’ supposedly equals authenticity is one I hear a lot in this line of work – the idea that content should include a specific demographic because “Look, there’s your key to seemingly-genuine content!” But it doesn’t necessarily have to be about finding a real family simply because that’s another box you want to tick off. It’s about finding a real family because they have a story to tell. Because they already have the creative to help drive your campaign. So you want to launch a real people campaign? Here are the top 3 things to keep in mind:
1. Find the stories that matter
Quakers 2015 spot The Recital resonated with me to the point that I continue to reference it a full year later. Why? Because the people in it told a story I wanted to watch unfold. I myself am a working dad. I get the struggles of work/life balance. This story struck a chord with me because it’s 100% relatable and real – not just the people, but the story too:
How to use this for your own videos: Like I said above, think about yourself as a consumer – what resonates with you? Find the stories that resonate because they are powerful stories, not because there’s a hyper-relevant current event that you should probably force a story line around. Talk to people. Cold call. Fall down every hashtag rabbit hole you can find and build your narrative around the characters you stumble upon.
2. Let the characters speak for themselves
It’s obvious when this isn’t the case — when the brand speaks for that ‘real person’. When you see that text on your screen proclaiming that this isn’t a set up, that ‘these are real people, not actors’ and then listen to some clearly scripted brand plug come out of their mouth while the product sits conveniently — and obviously — on screen.
So what’s the solution? Let the people speak for themselves. The power of Pedigree’s ‘Dark to Light’ campaign, for example, isn’t in the fact that a brand is showing us a real person, saying “Look at us! We’re an authentic brand!” The audience is moved because this is a human being letting us in on her life.
She has a story to tell – and this video empowers us to actually hear it.
On the same token, Jack Daniels’ Our Town is a cool example of a campaign built completely around the people and the tone they evoke. This is the tone that seemingly guides the creative; it feels natural, entertaining and is fun to watch.
How to use this for your own videos: Once you’ve found your story (see above), bring this character into the equation as early as possible so their story can help guide the ebbs and flows of the narrative. It’s much more challenging (and far less effective) to do it the other way around. Audiences are getting smarter and smarter. The ‘these are real people’ captions on a screen don’t cut it anymore. Audiences need to believe this is a genuine story they’re watching unfold, so don’t tell them with some text and forced narrative. Show them with a story they can believe in.
3. Understand that ‘real people’ aren’t actors
I mean, actors might go to 3+ callbacks a week. They know the drill. The average Joe might not even know what a callback is, and likely doesn’t want to go to an audition or callback in the middle of their workday for the chance of maybe being in a commercial. The entire process has to be different, and it isn’t about fitting real people into a mold you’ve previously developed. It’s about digging for the stories your brand wants to tell and and allowing a little flexibility to let them unfold.
How to use this for your own videos: Be flexible. Understand that timelines might be different, that headshots aren’t a thing, and that having a script you want ‘real people’ to read from might not translate into the most believable commercial. To put it bluntly, most people aren’t good at acting – so don’t get them to act in a commercial.
That’s the biggest takeaway here in my opinion, because ultimately the key to these kinds of campaigns doesn’t lie in finding a real person. It lies in finding the right person. And it’s about letting that person be exactly what you hired them to be: authentically themselves.