Featured in Forbes: Big Brands Vs. Startups: Here’s Why Authenticity Is Important (Especially Now)

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Marketers tend to get restless during major world events.

During the 2017 Black Lives Matter protests, Pepsi launched a now-infamous spot featuring Kendall Jenner, giving a can of soda to a police officer. Meant to convey unity and togetherness, the ad came off oblivious, and the Internet unanimously shunned the beverage company’s attempt at commentary.

In 2018, Jack in the Box launched an ad to introduce new teriyaki bowls to its menus. In the 60-second video, Jack pokes fun at the word “bowls” as a euphemism for male genitalia in an attempt to make light of the #MeToo movement. Again, the Internet was not having it. Many called the message insensitive and inappropriately timed. AdWeek's David Griner even called the commercial "one of the most tone-deaf ads of the #MeToo era."

COVID-19 has been no different. The pandemic has spurred another round of agita amongst marketers. Emotive messaging meant to pull on millennial heartstrings has largely fallen flat. And, on a few occasions, even deterred potential consumers. Startups, however, have found meaningful ways of maintaining relevance in their market without coming off contrived. That’s no small feat in an increasingly noisy playing field...

What Big Brands Can Learn from Startups

Startups are inherently more adept at being authentic. That’s made simple by nature of being smaller and less complex operationally, of course. Regardless, big brands shouldn’t just be paying attention to direct competitors. They need to watch how newer firms are responding to the pandemic.

SantM, a functional luxury/comfort chic/Handmade in Italy footwear brand and the Nemours Children's Hospital network, have teamed up to raise funds for and produce thousands of face masks for the hospital.

These companies all have one thing in common: instead of rushing to create marketing fluff, they focused their attention and pivoted their operations to meet real needs. Today, that’s what consumers expect. According to a recent study, 43% of millennials believe brands need to help during the pandemic. Startups see that and are proving they understand that potential buyers will not tolerate inaction. 

Marketers Should Ask Themselves, and Represent, What Matters

“Hey. We’re a Brand,” a parody ad launched last month by copywriter Samantha Geloso, perfectly encapsulates the current branded content moment.

In it, a fictional company takes viewers on an emotional journey through empty supermarkets and hospitals with forlorn patients in masks. In the end, viewers realize that the company used melancholy music and woeful footage to guilt audiences into purchasing a product.

Many of the ads we’ve been hit with in April and May have been exploiting the genuine anxiety consumers feel today. Geloso’s film makes that all too clear.

In today’s market, words must be met with action. 

Taking a pause and resisting the urge to react can sometimes be the hardest decision marketers make. Instead of inadvertently creating fires, marketers should take this moment to be thoughtful and ask themselves what matters to their teams, their leadership, and their customers. If now is not an opportune moment to ask yourself what you believe—when is?

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