"Authenticity influences consumer behavior in a more nuanced manner than previously recognised"
A study published in the Journal of Marketing found that ads that are consistent with a brand’s essence have a positive effect on sales but overly honest ads can actually hurt performance.
The latter is worse for hedonic products such as perfumes or luxury watches, because, as the research points out, people rely on more subjective information when buying from these categories.
The study included a sample of 323 television ads from 67 brands and concluded that “authenticity influences consumer behavior in a more nuanced manner than previously recognised.”
The analysis also showed that authentic ad campaigns can improve yearly revenue by 1,6%
That statistic should excite any planner or brand manager. It sure did the trick for me!
So, the question is…
What makes an ad authentic and effective?
Expert advice on what qualifies as authentic advertising is often fluffy, like this one from the New York Times Licensing;
“Authenticity is achieved when brands are engaging deeply with audiences, building connections that feel personal, and making their customers feel heard and understood.”
Frankly, authenticity is hard to describe. Unlike Share of Voice, what’s authentic is subjective.
That’s why you’ll hear as many descriptions as there are agency creatives and brand managers.
And looking at the most famous examples of authentic advertising, it’s clear that authenticity exists on a spectrum.
Some ads get straight to the point, like this famous print ad from Patagonia:
and others tell powerful stories, like this one from Starbucks.
And there are many, many more ways for brands to be authentic.
Recognising this struggle the researchers also suggested four dimensions that make an ad authentic and effective.
(I’ve mentioned the definitions for each dimension used by the researchers to avoid misunderstanding and included their key insight for each dimension. There’s a lot more substance and examples included in the study.)
Preserving brand essence: The researchers define brand essence as “the degree to which the ad reflects the brand’s image and personality and employs a consistent ad design.” Their analysis showed that preserving your brand essence makes an ad seem authentic and it increases advertising effectiveness as well.
Adding to this, they also advise managers to think strategically about how strictly they follow tradition because sometimes a ‘well-defined change in perspective’ can help increase brand awareness.
Honouring brand heritage: The researchers define brand heritage as “the degree to which the ad refers to the brand’s heritage or history.” The study showed that small brands gain more from touting their heritage than bigger and more established brands.
This means that heritage has a small and selective role in improving advertising effectiveness.
Showing a realistic plot: Researchers discovered that a realistic plotline is not the same as being close to real life. They caution that often depicting ‘real life’ is a cop-out and it should not be forced. That’s because consumers understand that ads “refers to something that may not be the “real thing” but is similar to real life.”
Instead, they advise not shying away from finding ways to make the plots entertaining or amusing and find ways to enchant consumers.
Presenting a credible message: Researchers caution that consumers are unforgiving about false or exaggerated product performance claims. At the same time, they found that some puffery may not be a bad thing for small brands or luxury products.
In the past, I’ve written about advertising budgets being one of the most important predictors of advertising effectiveness.
Now we know that it pays to be authentic.
This research found that a .5 standard deviation across Brand Essence, Realistic Plot, and Message Credibility can increase yearly revenues by 1,6%.
And the increase can be as high as 2,19% depending on your advertising budget, overall ad effectiveness, and category.
The research has limitations, and authenticity will continue to be subjective no matter how many times we measure it.
The key point I took away from it is that now we can have a shared language to talk about the features that improve authentic brand communication.
It’s time to add authenticity as a new standard in measuring advertising effectiveness.
Have the best week!
PS. Stay curious!