The Zeitgeist of Authenticity: Mad Men to Now

Mad Men

Unless you live under a rock, you now know the Mad Men series finale closed with a real 1971 commercial – Hillside, or I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke. The ad reflected a seminal shift in advertising…and maybe a change in Don Draper’s character after an authentic experience at a Big Sur ashram. Ok, maybe not that last part.

The iconic ad showed people of all nationalities singing about “sharing” (with purchase), communicating more a heartfelt feeling or value than a product. It signaled a move beyond product for a specific customer like McCann-Erikson’s heartland Miller Beer drinker: “He works hard, he likes things that don’t talk back and he drinks beer.”

Fast forward more than four decades and authenticity is again meaningful for some of today’s most well regarded companies and their strategic marketing campaigns. In fact, Forbes calls “authenticity” the number one trend for 2015 that marketers should budget for.

While millennials and baby boomers report that authenticity is important to them, the way a company translates this to marketing campaigns varies widely.

Companies that lead with meaning and get authenticity “right” are able to focus beyond a single sale to cultivate customer loyalty and create lasting brands. The payoff may be a different type of customer – one that will stay with you based on the values of your company and the goods you promote. It’s an important differentiator in today’s competitive environment with constant demand for attention and dollars.

So, in the sincere desire to help you achieve genuine authenticity, here are a few suggestions:

Support your claims and positioning 

Make sure you can support what you say to promote your company or products – if you can’t prove it, don’t say it. The popular “Made in America” claim is one many companies are eager to make. Unfortunately, the company responsible for conferring the “certification” was accused last year by the FTC of selling the label to any company able to pay the price. Once tainted by trying to fool customers, it’s hard to recover.

Weave your mission or values with sales 

Don’t forget to sell stuff in your commitment to being authentic. Some companies focus on connecting with customers so much that they can lose sight of what they’re trying to sell. Your marketing approach must balance content and intertwine messaging on meaning with products.

Tom’s is widely lauded for their balanced marketing approach selling shoes and accessories in its mission to donate shoes to children in need for every pair sold. The company website gives equal space to its online store as it does to telling their story and promoting their values. For Tom’s, the mission may be paramount, but marketing of the product is also front and center. Success is measured by associating the company with its products and values – you don’t think of one without the other.

Let others help tell your story 

If you’ve successfully connected with customers through marketing your company and product, you may be able to create a community willing to help tell your story. Consider it an authenticity “bonus,” as it’s also cost effective. How you choose to use or frame such customer feedback may vary, but listening carefully must be a first step.

Patagonia created a Worn Wear campaign to demonstrate its commitment to long lasting gear to support its mission to reduce waste and consumption. To help customers keep their favorite worn-out gear in use, the company hired 45 repair technicians to patch and stich back together much-loved products that might otherwise be tossed into a landfill.

The program became a cross-country tour (6 weeks, 5,641 miles, 21 states, 18 repair stops and one flat tire) offering free repairs of well-loved items as well as teaching customers how to do their own mending. Patagonia now has a popular online video of fans telling their stories about the company and their products. It is authentically appealing.

Be consistent inside and out (and online and offline) 

The values expressed through marketing products should be consistent with company behavior. Consumers notice any disconnect, and a sense of schadenfreude helps spread the word.

A study of corporate brands vs. product brands demonstrated that a majority of executives (87%) understand that a strong corporate reputation is as important as product brands. And they’re right. Many customers (40%) will not buy a product if they believe there’s a disconnect or lack of integrity between the corporate and product brands. Even if you think your company motto has it covered (“Do No Evil”), make sure that consistency and authenticity are hallmarks of your marketing.

Authenticity done well transcends time and demographics and even product–although even the Coca Cola Company now also sells bottled water.

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