Over the last months, the seeds of a new kind of communication have spread throughout new media, especially on Facebook. So-called fake-news, „alternative facts”, or distorted realities have unraveled a unique influencing trend which can either become a problem or an opportunity for advertisers. I believe that both represent equally a challenge and a new kind of advertising paradigm, more digitally-led, and highly responsible.
Each aspect of a fabricated story that gets out there and becomes viral is deeply rooted in what specialists call implicit bias. False news stories favoring POTUS Donald Trump have been shared nearly 4 times more than those favoring Hillary Clinton during the Presidential campaign, according to Stanford University in its Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election study. Such statistics only strengthen this idea.
As a Romanian copywriter, over the last 2 months I have witnessed and been an active part of what others might call the awakening of a sleeping giant. Under the #resist hashtag, Romanians rose and united to protect their democracy. Bucharest has seen the largest protests since the 1989 Revolution – a strong reaction to a controversial government decree.
Against all odds, the Government’s decision to do this was the cause of something truly wonderful. For the first time in almost 30 years, people came together and joined forces, put their minds and skills together to create a resistance wave with unimaginable force. An unexpected battlefield turned out to be advertising, as tens of thousands of people joined a public appeal to companies to withdraw their advertising contracts or stop promoting themselves on politically biased televisions.
This led to a historical first in Romania: it made companies reconsider the way their values are being reflected in their media strategy. As a result, more than half of the contracted brands have withdrawn their advertising from TV stations accused of manipulating their audience with fake news and propaganda, while trying to paint a false picture about the tens of thousands of people in the streets and the real reason for them being there.
And the country listened. In fact, the whole world listened.
Now it’s our turn, the creative people.
My strong belief is that advertising not only exists for profit-making, but also for bettering the world. As an advertiser, my ultimate purpose is to create and portray ideas that resonate with people, following their rhythm, their lifestyle, their secrets, and even their fears.
Taking the European Advertising Certificate in 2016 made me dive into the fascinating land of Behaviour Economics and Consumer Choice Architecture, while beginning to mull over the power of emotions and how they relate to consumer decision making. This approach led me towards new understandings on how communities react when their status quo is threatened, and brought to light their intriguing manner on embracing new perceptions about a person, a situation or a brand, in a very short time.
Maybe I was just another scatterbrain copywriter trying to reinterpret a digital-shaped reality with the means of intuition and experiences met in the past. I enabled my own framework for compassion, trying out empathy building exercises within any creative brief or clients’ need. In the context of rapidly growing technologies, I also started to wonder how can brands truly get involved in people’s lives and still be relevant in the post-truth era. And of course, as Simon Sinek said, why should brands have a say in this new paradigm.
We are facing a new leap in advertising.
A very emotional one.
Aside from social media companies’ impressive endeavors on making a statement and adding value to their products, we must admit that the world of communications has reached a turning point, with deep implications and realities that are changing in leaps. We are witnessing a great need for pure, untangled information. A global hunger for honesty and humanity.
Studies have shown that emotions can influence whether people will believe in fake news or not, hence the contemporary times that lead us to either adhere to a filtered truth or a more nuanced reality. A Foucaultian perspective on this discussion brings out the sharing mechanism as a social exchange of information. Should we use the power of voice, ideas, ideals sharing, we ask ourselves: to whom do we address this message, this campaign? Why is this relevant? And how is this contributing to making a better world?
Some brands have already chosen their battles – in all, people have become evangelists of truth. Their voices are now heard more than ever and prove that communities have greater power. Our audiences can now shape how, what and when to receive their customized content.
In other words, communities can stand tall and on their own whenever they feel wronged at any level.
This global behavior is tightly connected to how brands should respond and build their business model. Due to these fundamental changes, brands pay more attention to how people perceive the truth and handle new or sophisticated technologies. New standards and high expectations are being set for Millennials.
In the post-truth era, brands’ positioning is no longer as important as are the values they share and forward to the world. Therefore, while living in a space with endless problems, brands have to join the game of values and ethical principles, a game called brand activism. Some players have already had their share: Nike on equality; Airbnb on diversity and belonging; and Dove on truth-larking. And these are just a few top of mind examples to be acknowledged.
Other kinds of persuasions are already facing belittlement in the minds and hearts of people. A more narrow approach could split sales efforts in half: creativity against efficiency; yet I think there are ways to reach in-between business goals, while surviving the trials of the new world.
In this respect, I truly believe that we, as advertisers, need to turn back to the lobster metaphor when dealing with stress. To look within and tackle around innovation and technology, while always aiming for a higher purpose: the greater good of the people. To wrap our minds around how to make our content, our messages, our brands’ values more visible, more relevant, useful and community-driven.
An open attitude towards values and purpose is now the norm. We have the moral responsibility to ask ourselves how to reach the next level, what our purpose is and how to make the best of it. Curiosity, mindfulness and technology can and will lead us to unite nations and build bridges over walls dividing cultures.