Reality TV is the worst thing to have happened to advertising. Of course, purveyors of quality drama, investigative documentaries and high culture are also having to put up with the extra competition, but advertising has been completely invalidated.
What started with The Real World and Big Brother has matured into the Sport Science channel’s World Record Kick to the Groin and teenage millionaires licking the soles of their shoes in mirrors for YouTube. People over 30 can complain about the dearth of production values, scripting and artistic merit, but none of that matters in comparison to authenticity.
Watching a spot of happy-slapping recorded on a camera phone outside a KFC delivers a far more visceral thrill than the most elegantly choreographed cinematic display of fictional violence. Authenticity is the trump card, and the public responds with eyeballs and dollars.
Meanwhile, advertisers have been acting like the main competition to reality entertainment is still Coronation Street. Advertising might be using the latest social channels, but behind all that we are still just dealing in slickly produced fictional content. The chosen channel is irrelevant, it’s the content that matters.
The upshot is that our entertainment – the stuff we consume to ‘get away from it all’ – is more real and authentic than our advertising, which supposedly provides real-life solutions for real-life problems.
Of course you can still tickle the older generation with a 30-second comedy ad featuring The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse. But as the market matures and the teens of yesterday become the target of today, this shtick is going to wear thin fast.
Indeed, it is already happening. Claimed affection for brands is far lower in developed markets such as the US and Europe than in developing ones, with an 89% correlation between this metric and perceived authenticity.
The younger the audience (that is, the more attuned their tastes are to authenticity), the bleaker the picture. When this is coupled with the permanence and transparency of information that the internet has afforded us, consumers are learning to make their own minds up on brand perception. This, ultimately, means less control and relevance for marketers.
So, what do we do? We do what we have always done when it comes to competing with entertainment – copy it.
To counter reality TV, we need reality advertising – campaigns that take place in the wilds of the real world rather than the safe confines of a studio. Thankfully, this trend is underway. Cannes Lions and the like are dominated by reality campaigns, from stunts to ‘prankvertising’, novel product launches to service developments.
What has not happened yet, however, is a quantifying and labelling of this new market. This is where experiential needs to step up to the plate.
Reality advertising, in essence, is experiential but with more strategic sophistication, bravery, media savvy and budget than the stereotype of ‘jazz hands and branded polo shirts’ that the market takes experiential to be.
This could be the answer to brands’ authenticity problem. Once they recognise this and experiential agencies shift their focus to beyond execution, we will be looking at a discipline that can form the creative centre of communication for the next decade.
Central to this new approach is the understanding from clients and agencies that real-world brand actions (experiential ideas) need to become the centrepiece of brand campaigns, supported and amplified by mass media channels. This is a big departure from the traditional approach, which uses experiential as a mini media channel in itself to amplify an abstract idea.
An example is Sense’s Shinebright Studio, developed for Glacéau vitaminwater.
Vitaminwater was looking to establish itself as a ‘fuel for ideas’ among the creative classes (artists, entrepreneurs, creative directors and the like).
You can immediately spot the potential for an authenticity crisis: a large, unsubstantiated claim directed at an audience that is extremely savvy about marketing ‘guff’. As such, a reality approach was essential.
We created a high-profile gallery space where upcoming creatives could display their work and have it promoted through our media network. This core function was complimented by a series of workshops with film-maker Jamal Edwards and singer Foxes, to further cement our credentials.
With the use of mass media channels, it was possible to promote the concept in various ways, including PR, promotion and sending invites. By being aware of what Glacéau vitaminwater was doing, we were confident it would effectively communicate the message to consumers, regardless of whether or not they visited the studios. In this case, the central piece of experiential provided authenticity and the media provided the reach.
Ultimately, the concept received a combined 56 million impressions across various channels, delivering leaps in consumers’ belief that this was a “brand for me” and “an entrepreneurial” brand across our core creative audience.
These results were calculated by Sense’s ‘true reach’ system: a technique used to aggregate multichannel results for a single experiential campaign.
Fundamentally, the Shinebright Studio campaign for Glacéau vitaminwater was a straightforward piece of experiential, approached in a thoroughly non-experiential way.
A great inter-agency team all revolved around the same central concept, using their individual expertise to make it as effective as it could be.
Using experiential action as an above the line communication can provide the solution to the authenticity problem. It is now the responsibility of the agencies to live up to that promise.