Monday, November 17, 2008

What Brand Authenticity is Not

A magical lesson in Brand Authenticity was learned this week by Johnson & Johnson: You can't fake it. My takeaway from this weekend's Twitter-Fueled Motrin Massacre over the "We Feel Your Pain" Ad is that people know when you don't know anything about them. The ad is here. More on my thesis below.

My wife, an official "baby-wearing" mother and Assoc. Editor at Pregnancy & Newborn magazine, saw the ad and laughed. She thought it was not very sensitive and not very well presented, but she could appreciate what they were going for.

J&J is a huge company with decades of experience in marketing. They helped create the system of running campaigns in front of test audiences and focus groups, so what happened this time? As Seth Godin points out, they treated this ad different because it was viral. Companies look at ads differently for the web than they do for broadcast media. And they should, but they don't know why...

Another case-in-point, a company called Celebrity Smile is trying to use viral to attract potential customers to their website. They created a fake blog about a mother who Wants to Whiten her Teeth that is so coated with insincerity that it is an insult to the internet-using populace. Faking a blog to draw "word-of-mouth" traffic to your site is a fast way to destroy any trust that could have been engendered by the idea of a real blog. It's like copying off the dumb kid in class, you're cheating and you're still going to fail.

An example of a really bad answer on a test question. Funny, but wrong.

And, just for laughs, here is the (fictitious) List of Ideas that Motrin Ditched before Going with the Baby-Wearing Ad.
I'm cutting and pasting my favorite...

3. I’ve always been a staunch supporter of abstinence as a birth control method. Then, right after I decided to run for Vice-President, my 16-year old daughter told me she was pregnant. Motrin: We Feel Your Pain.

The trick with viral is you have to be SO in touch with your audience, you have to already have SO much "authenticity," that your customers hear your voice as their own voice. Your audience has to know that you get them, otherwise they will suspect that you are mocking them or worse, condescending and alienating them. A company with strong branding does NOT own its brand, instead it recognizes that its brand is the property of its customers.

Brands that have done this right: Nike Sports, Mac, Converse Shoes, Weezer, Target

Brands that have failed to do this: Hurley, Microsoft, New Coke, Southwest Airlines, and now, Motrin. Feel free to add your own examples...

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