• Jake

Truth and myth: ‘advertising must realistically represent the consumer’

Fundamentally, people like people who are like them. This is a principle known as homophily, akin to the proverb ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

This has also been substantiated in a recent study, Project Eden. The Numbers Lab, who ran the survey, questioned 2,000 consumers across the UK to examine diversity and inclusion in advertising. The findings concluded that consumers want more representative and real people in advertising.


  • 38% would like ads to present a more realistic portrayal of people in the world

  • 36% want ads that do not resort to stereotyping

  • 35% want the inclusion of more people with different body types and size

As Majbritt Rijs, Managing Director at the Numbers Lab said of this research: “consumers will switch off from brands that do not represent them or the world around them.”

While I agree with this, the solution then doesn’t simply lie in holding up an advertising mirror to those consumers. While relevance is important, successful advertising must also create relatable associations that are both desirable and motivating.

So, advertising resonance is essential.

Not just by being authentic.

But by being aspiring.

And inspiring.

Advertising that projects people within the world they live.

The person that gets dressed up to kill, thrill and party the night away.

Not the one who slobs on the sofa watching car-crash TV in their knackered old PJs.

As others have commented before:

People don't buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.

Nicely summed up below….

This begs a question to all marketers. When you're aiming to win customers, are you focused on what the product does, or on what it can do for those customers? The answer should be the latter. After all, helping people imagine throwing fireballs is far more powerful and exhilarating.

Let’s take the example of Steve Jobs with the launch of the Apple iPod. He didn’t blab on about the MP3 product spec functionality and storage capabilities. He instead focused on the human-experience of being a better person through having a ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’. Just look at how the billboard below exemplifies this. The variety of dancing silhouettes actively invites you to imagine enjoying on-the-go access to the music you love.

So, it’s worth repeating: People don't buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.

Stepping back in time again, two famous TV advertising campaigns that bombed are further points in case:

1. Marks & Spencer:

M&S ran an advertising campaign showing a British woman of average size and weight running naked up a hill shouting ‘‘I'm normal!” and proclaiming, “if you’re not average, you’re normal”. With the strapline ‘Exclusively for Everyone’ it failed to spark a hoped-for turnaround in M&S’s declining sales fortunes. Intrinsically, people identify as ‘a someone’, not as ‘an everyone’ which this failed to target or relate to. By comparison is the current Dove campaign to celebrate armpits in all their forms to spread the message that there is no idealized norm. This is underpinned with the motivating message: ‘everyone is normal and everyone is different’.

Video source: https://youtu.be/fqwUOedIo0Y

2. Strand cigarettes:

Possibly the most disastrous tobacco advertising campaign of

all time. The TV advert showed a man at a party, ignored by everyone. It ended with the tagline: ‘You're never alone with a Strand. The cigarette of the moment’. The problem was no-one wanted to be perceived as a loner, which put people off buying them.

Fast forward to the rebrand and relaunch as Embassy. The new TV advert still showed a man at a party, ignored by everyone. However, he produces a pack of Embassy, starts offering them around and is suddenly the life and soul of the party. The advertising campaign is a success and Embassy became the UK’s biggest selling cigarette brand.

So, some concluding thoughts…

When it comes to advertising people do want to see people that positively represent themselves. Coming back to Dove and their Real Beauty platform. This showcases real people.

But it also represents a ‘hero’ version. Irrespective of age, shape or size, the women within these campaigns all look fantastic in their own authentic individual ways. It is a celebratory positive affirmation that breaks down the idealised beauty stereotype.

For advertising to be effective, the representation of relatable people should be through understanding the target audience driving motivations and desirable outcomes. We need to grasp not just what they do, but why they do, to successfully communicate with them.

The advertising lesson to take on board is simple.

Resonate with consumers by ringing true and delivering a personally meaningful message.

Create refraction. Not reflection.

Help people see themselves through the product experience as Super Mario. Not just plain old Mario.

#Advertising #Marketingeffectiveness #marketingstrategy #customerengagement

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