Marketing & PR

Marketing in 2018: The Triumph of Authenticity

Robert W. Sprague

Americans are being lied to. And they know it.

It may be the unprecedented stream of BS from Washington, DC… the exposure of the predations of famous men… obvious bias in the media… or daily exposure to hacks, scams, and clickbait online. One way or another, people have become more cynical than ever about the communications they receive. As marketers and advertisers we have to face the fact that they just don’t believe us anymore.

84% of millennials, for example, view advertising as intentionally inaccurate, “deceitful” and “manipulative.” Hostility toward public relations, marketing, branding, and corporate communications is shared across generations. Anything regarded as sales-speak or corporate-talk is rejected out of hand.

Ironically, this pervasive distrust has not led to any reduction of consumption. The economy is booming as people shop, buy, and ally with brands at historic levels. What does this quest for authenticity – or perhaps, wholesale rejection of inauthenticity – mean for us as professionals? Should we give up?

Hardly. People value marketing and advertising that brings them information they need. Authenticity in marketing, therefore, can make our jobs more fulfilling – and more fun. We don’t have to be force-feeding or manipulating consumers. We can feel good that we are connecting them with products and services they want. To succeed in that respect, and to get beyond the credibility gap, we will need to pay increasing attention to these marketing trends in 2018 and beyond:


1. Digital conversations.

It’s our last chance to go digital or go home. The primary reason is that digital can enable the two-way conversations that authentic communication demands. This is not the case for traditional direct mail, broadcast TV and radio, print, or even standard-issue websites. For better or worse, Americans are interacting with their friends and colleagues more and more through the mobile devices that more than 82% of them carry. They want the same from their chosen brands.

Expect to see continuing evolution towards platforms that behave more like apps, interacting with the user and sharing information and entertainment. This will fuel a demand not only for advanced development and AI, but also for valuable content. Gimmicks and clickbait will disappear or be filtered out. And more and more of this interactivity will take place on mobile devices as Google starts mobile-first indexing.

2. Precision marketing.

In healthcare, it’s called precision medicine – the ability to use genomic data to deliver the exact kind of treatment a patient needs (and avoid ineffective or even harmful alternatives.) In marketing, the growing sophistication of analytics has already enabled the identification and targeting of groups most likely to respond to a message, and analytics will continue to parse consumers down to the individual level.

Yes, privacy concerns are valid. On the other hand, precision marketing has a strong upside as consumers will receive marketing and advertising that interests them, and (like a patient avoiding side effects) be freed from spam and information overload.

3. Genuine branding.

Few consumers can discern whether one laptop is better than another, or even whose hamburger tastes the best. But they can understand character and personality, and whether it is real or fake. An authentic brand – rooted in the genuine attributes of a company or service – is the only true differentiator in the market.

Expect more time and effort, therefore, to be devoted towards uncovering authentic brands, articulating them, and engaging employees and customers to create brand communities (as Wendy’s has done with great success on social media.)

4. Greater use of video.

One-third of online activity is consumption of video content, and the proportion will grow. Why?

Video offers a “see it – believe it” variety of authenticity that is hard to match. While it is possible to distort the truth on video, consumers understand that effort is required to do so. That may be the reason why the most popular type of online video tends to be low in production quality and user-generated. As consumers become more used to online video, examples that call upon the skills of professional directors, camera operators, and editors will begin to stand out for their craft.

5. Careful attention to tone.

When words are used, choice of tone will be essential as consumers summarily reject sales-speak or corporate-talk. Badly crafted marketing copy will fail, especially if it employs faux-sophisticated “junk English” or attempts to mimic the patois of teens or ethnic subcultures.

One interesting study explores the role of the “little words” – pronouns, conjunctions, articles and other linguistic connectors – in text. In many cases these often-overlooked words, meaningless in of themselves, determine the tone and authenticity of a verbal message.


We remain far from a nirvana of authentic marketing. A counter-trend, for example, is the growing amount of pay-to-play as Facebook and other platforms de-prioritize organic content from their business pages. In the near term, advertisers will need to up their spends to achieve visibility on social media, even to their fans and followers. Will consumers notice this, or even care? Perhaps not, as long as the content is engaging, interesting, and – above all – authentic.

In the meantime, our world will evolve. Our approach must change, because by definition it is impossible to create authenticity where none exists.

In the future, our role may increasingly become one of uncovering the truth, articulating and expressing it, and bringing it to the people who find it most relevant and useful in their lives. That to me is a source of both challenge – and hope.

Robert W. Sprague
Robert W. Sprague
President & CEO

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