Branding in the “post-truth” era

The term “fake news” became popular in 2016, surrounding baseless stories attempting to influence the US presidential election. To search it into Google in March 2020, it brings 1.31bn results. It’s led to a third of us cutting back on news consumption, with 20% saying they avoid the news altogether. These figures are enough to send shivers down the spines of both PR professionals and advertisers.

The reality is now that a lot of social media users are more aware of what accounts they follow and what content comes there way. So advertisers and marketing strategies need to change. Social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram in particular have slowly but surely been adapting their algorithms. They have put more of a focus on personal accounts and stories rather than the more commercial. This means the more real, authentic and raw your content is, the better it’ll perform.

For brands, it actually represents an opportunity. As the suggestion that we’re living in the era of “post-truth” is made, the strategy of humanising your brand gains traction. The concept speaks of the age-old “people work with people” sentiment, whilst also embodying what consumers want from the brands they buy from: authenticity, personalisation, honesty. Being corporate is becoming an unwanted characteristic, self-awareness can soften a lot of critics.

Take KFC, for example, that ran out of chicken that one time. Any legitimate outrage to a business being unable to fulfil their primary function vanished with three letters. Their apology began with “It’s not ideal”… it sounds crazy; but it actually sounds like it was written by a human. Of course it was but that’s not the point; the BBC called it “pretty cheeky”, words you’d think shouldn’t be associated a global fast food business. With two newspaper ads, the apology reached over 200 million profiles on social and nearly 800 million people through editorials.

Across the pond, another fried chicken giant, Wendy’s, have mastered the art of humanised branding on Twitter. They respond to critics with wit, take constant jabs at McDonald’s and Burger King and give no effort to the usual sign off from an employee a lot of brands adopt. Forbes published a whole piece on “How Wendy’s stopped worrying”; it’s strange when realising that they’re talking about a whole company collectively adopting a brand new personality, through some funny tweets.

Humanising your brand helps you hold a set of values, a distinct voice and sets your vision apart. If done right, your ads can cut through the algorithms and target your audience, but breathe a breath of fresh air and honesty on their timeline.

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Written by
Dominic Taylor
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