NEWS

AUTHENTIC NARRATIVES: LESSONS FROM MY FIRST VIRTUAL PLANNING CONFERENCE

As trends become increasingly user-led, and expectations to address social issues increase, the onus is on brands to stay relevant and authentic.

Last month, I attended my first virtual planning conference. Taking place over Zoom this year, the annual Group Think festival is an opportunity for strategists to share ideas and techniques and to discuss current topics in strategy. Ranging from customer experience, to fandoms, to brand activism, the day gave some food for thought for ways brands can prioritise customer voices and authentically appeal to audiences.

FANDOMS AND USER-CREATED CONTENT ARE LEADING INNOVATIONS

From celebrity-led initiatives to the power of fandoms, ‘What the world of entertainment can teach us about cultural narratives’ explored how entertainment can interact with brand purpose and innovation.  For example, the ways in which storytelling with initiatives like Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions documentaries can alter narratives of under-represented voices and local activists. Not just followers of the latest releases, it also explored how fandoms and user-created content, like Fortnite streams and WattPad Studios, can lead trends in gaming, fashion and film.

Marshmello Fortnite Concert (Credit: Whelsko)

STRATEGISE BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE

The global Black Lives Matter movement was also a theme running through many of the sessions. Podcaster and strategist, Mark Pollard, spoke about moving outside your comfort zone to create meaningful work. Joined by Nathan Young, a strategist from George Floyd’s city, the session explored what an advertising strategy against police brutality might look like. Specifically, how a strategy for Campaign Zero could persuade audiences to call for legislative change to end police violence.

THE ONUS IS ON BRANDS TO SHOW AUTHENTIC SOCIAL AWARENESS

Analysing brand activism in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, one speaker looked at the good, mediocre and bad of brands addressing social issues. With the context of a global pandemic, it seems that the public, especially younger socially conscious generations, have growing expectations for what brands can do for society.

Indeed, 7 in 10 Gen Z consumers are more likely to support a brand that supports social issues they care about (CASSANDRA 2020). However, as reactions to brands such as L’Oréal and Starbucks demonstrate, consumers are quick to call out brands for inauthenticity or hypocrisy. They will also notice performative activism from brands that only appear to care about issues like inclusivity when racism is a trending topic, with initiatives like Pull Up or Shut Up calling for brands to be transparent about diversity in senior leadership.

On the other hand, brands that listen to what audiences want and show activism beyond empty statements will be seen as sincere allies to social causes. For example, fashion brand House of CB was praised for its commitments to race equity through investments in black creatives and measures to address internal structures.

Vaguely speaking about social issues is no longer enough to engage audiences. The onus is therefore on brands to rise to the challenge with authentic social awareness and inclusivity.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Centre your ideas on the consumers’ perspective
  • Don’t rely on one way of thinking – develop models to allow you to evaluate a problem from different perspectives throughout the development of a campaign
  • Users often lead trends, so it’s important to listen to their ideas
  • Empty words mean nothing, brands need to demonstrate what they are actually doing to address social causes
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