Marketing has been obsessed with authenticity for as long as it has existed. Of late, it’s why Dove has been so successful with its ‘Real Beauty’ campaign (recent body-shaped bottles fiasco notwithstanding).
Consumers subconsciously think of Dove as a bit more than just soap – it is soap created by a company that really cares about how you feel in your own Dove-lathered skin. In fact, it’s not a soap company at all, it is a skin company. Excuse the weird imagery, but you get my point.
In Jonathan Culleron’s 1990 essay on semiotics in tourism, ‘Framing the Sign: Criticism and its Institutions’, he writes: “One of the characteristics of modernity is the belief that authenticity has been lost and exists only in the past – whose signs we preserve (antiques, restored buildings, imitations of old interiors) – or else in other regions or countries.”
As Culleron points out, this leads to tourism marketing that highlights attractions ‘off the beaten track’ or invites us to discover the ‘real Spain’. Dove strives for this authenticity by looking to a world before (or without) social media trolls and airbrushing, when we may believe women were under less pressure to conform to a particular image.
In its recent #Breaking2 campaign, Nike mastered genuine authenticity in a product launch. It did so by positioning itself as enabler of an incredible athletic feat, Eliud Kipchoge’s attempt to run a marathon in less than two hours, and brought its brand back to the heart of what achievement means in sport. It is not about overpaid athletes, Instagram or fashion – it’s about pushing the body to its limits.
Yes, athletics and running fans knew the entire thing was a stunt to promote the Zoom Superfly Elite (a shoe which sounds like it was named by a 13-year-old boy) but they were nevertheless impressed that Nike had backed and organised the feat.
People could watch the events unfold on their timelines and interact with something far more prosaic at face value than a bombastic 30-second ad spot, but also with two hours of tension guaranteed.
It is this dynamic that has seen the event compared to ‘Red Bull Stratos’, when Felix Baumgartner embarked on supersonic freefall from the edge of space in 2012. That was a different time for media, however, and viewers had to tune in to YouTube to watch Baumgartner.
#Breaking2, as well as being compulsory viewing for runners, was also arguably more of a stumble-upon event than Stratos, given the reach of Facebook and Twitter in 2017, and the ability to easily watch a livestream in their respective apps.
Without hearing anything about the event, I was awake at 5.30am on the day and happened to see the livestream on Twitter. With the attempt happening on Saturday morning in Europe and Friday night in the US, key times for social media use but not necessarily linear TV viewing, one could argue that livestreaming is coming of age.
According to recent research by Qualtrics, millennials check their phones 150 times per day and cannot go five hours without checking social media. That makes mobile and social media the perfect place for live events.
As for Nike’s new trainers, despite consumers fully understanding #Breaking2 was a marketing stunt, many runners will associate them with marginal gains that may just make them justify the price tag.
Other brands, and not just in sport, will have taken notice. Though this kind of marketing stunt is expensive and meticulously planned, it represents an alternative to enormous above-the line campaigns, will yield lots more content and have a much bigger effect on the brand, in this case particularly among runners.
Expect to see more livestreaming of record attempts, stunts and events across sectors such as automotive, fashion, and food and drink.
With brands such as Pepsi massively missing the mark when striving for authenticity in their big ad campaigns, slow-burn campaigns leading up to livestreamed events represent a big opportunity for marketers – all enabled by the reach of social media and good old PR.
Ben Davis is senior writer at Marketing Week’s sister title Econsultancy.