How Nike & Unilever – and One Tiny Welsh Company – Demonstrated the Power of Authenticity

December 23, 2019Sparxoo


When we began to examine the ripple effects of Generation Z’s arrival in 2020 as a consumer force, we knew we’d have to consider closely the meaning of “authenticity” within a digital marketing context.

After giving the topic due contemplation, we summed it up like this for our 2020 Guide to Trends in Digital Marketing:

“Keep it real to make connections.”

Which might not sound like a ground-breaking idea in marketing, but is as relevant as it’s been in years. What’s different from all those other times “authenticity” was an overused buzzword is that Gen Z has reshaped the way authenticity plays among American consumers.

That’s important to know, because this group of young citizens born after 1995 will account for $323 billion in direct spending and influence $1.2 trillion of spending in 2020, according to AdWeek.

Consider, also, that a recent survey of 1,200 participants age 18-over conducted by the marketing research firm Blis found that 41% cited authenticity and transparency as their “most important value for brand selection.” Sustainability (21%) was a distant second among priorities, followed by community involvement (9%) and political/cultural advocacy (7%).

A related concept we explored in the 2020 Trends Guide is progressive storytelling, which is the “how” behind authenticity. It’s not “progressive” storytelling in a political sense; rather, it’s implementing immersive storytelling and communication tactics such as:

  • Episodic video
  • Social media stories (Instagram and Facebook)
  • Human engagement on social media platforms
  • Personalized content based on data
  • Cause-based activations and company involvement

As we pointed out in our Trends Guide, it might be easier said than done to present an authentic face to the public. It often requires a period of self-reflection to be sure that you understand what your organization truly stands for and what that means in the big picture.

Meanwhile, here are three recent examples of the power of authenticity in action. The first two are from big brands, Nike and Dove Men+Care, both of which took potentially risky stands on social issues – and put a lot of money and effort into the campaigns.

The third is from a little hardware store in Wales, Haford Hardware, which went viral with its holiday-themed video – a production that cost them $132 to make.

Nike and Colin Kaepernick
The “kneel or don’t kneel” controversy raged in 2018 and into 2019. In case you missed it, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while still with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, knelt during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner to protest police violence and other societal inequities toward African-Americans.

Nike came down firmly in the Kaepernick camp with the release of its new ad campaign in September 2018, and quickly drew criticism from conservative circles. All that talk of Nike boycotts faded, and what was left was the memory of Nike’s smart move – backed up by brilliant video storytelling.

Dove Men+Care’s Commitment to Parental Leave for Dads
When Unilever wanted to expand its Dove beauty and personal care brand to embrace the male demographic, it created Dove Men+Care and began to market to dads. It ramped up that effort in 2019 by jumping into the push for more paid parental leave in the United States – with an emphasis on encouraging fathers to use the leave time (if any) allotted by their employers.

They ran a campaign encouraging dads to sign a paternity leave pledge “so that dads don’t have to choose between caring for their child and a paycheck.” That’s keeping it real and hitting dads right in the feels.

The Little Hardware Store That Could

Hafod Hardware – you likely never heard of this little family hardware operation in rural Wales unless you were one of the 2.5 million viewers who saw the 2-minute ad they released on Dec. 1.

Watch it below to see why it resonated so well, and keep in mind this lesson: While the big guys like Nike and Unilever know how to spin an authentic yarn to connect with their customers, a little outfit like Hafod Hardware is just as capable of finding that sweet spot of authenticity and turning it into viral gold.