The recent Pepsi advert was a classic example of how agencies can sometimes get it wrong. But they’re not the only ones. Can tone-deaf corporates connect with real people anymore?

Recent offenders

Kendall Jenner starred in an advert handing a Pepsi to a police officer during a protest. The internet went mad.

Then McDonald’s released an advert which some thought made light of childhood bereavement. The internet went mad.

Yes: creative agencies sometimes get ads wrong. As do the clients who commission and approve (and in Pepsi’s case, make) them. That’s not news.

What’s worrying, though, is just how out-of-touch these big companies are with real people and how that will affect the quality of the ads they make.

Will agencies become less creative?

In this age when outrage spreads like wildfire on the internet, it’s not a stretch to think that agencies will start to play it more and more safe… just in case they offend someone. The fact that they can’t really tell if they’re being offensive or not until after the ad is released reinforces this.

But hope’s not all lost: Adidas released an advert which looked glossy but had been created by a fan (rather than a committee sat around a tray of Pret sandwiches):

In the video an old man escapes from a care home for his routine run (in his Adidas trainers).

Crucially, the creator of the advert, a student at a Germany’s Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg, Eugen Merher, said a personal story had inspired the ad. ‘I had a distant relative who passed away last year, and he was the main inspiration.’

The advert was then published on the Adidas platform and has been viewed over 13 million times.

The new creative class?

The Pepsi disaster offers a cautionary tale of trying to fake people power. While the Adidas example shows the opportunities that brands have if they empower people instead.

And it doesn’t take much. Everyone has access to creative tools. Technology allows everyone to be a photographer, a cinematographer, a writer. And if these people are fans of your brands, why not allow them to craft your message?

Claude Grunitzky, the founder of the brand TRUE Africa which targets young Africans, has based a lot of his career on giving “a voice to people who are creating the culture.” Earlier in the year, he joined the People Tell Richard Stuff podcast to talk about the importance of identifying your key influencers at a grass roots level.

These people are not necessarily famous, but happen to be extremely famous in their own community.

And after he identifies these people he helps them “create exclusive content for media platforms.”

Empower the masses

If your customers are interested in activism, why not let them show you? Why not use their ideas and opinions, in the form of user-generated content (UGC), to make your existing creative more authentic? At the very least, your customers can offer an honest narrative of what it’s like to own the product, how it makes them feel, how it betters their everyday, and most importantly how it fits into their life.

There’s no denying it. Kendall Jenner is famous. But is she that influential? She’s not authoritative – certainly not after the Fyre Festival debacle.

According to our research, 69% of people prefer the authenticity of UGC over brand-created images. Here’s an example of an ad that combines both brilliantly. It’s for the Vauxhall Mokka.

It has the charm of coming from real people, but it’s professionally produced. Nothing wrong with that.

Another reason to give the megaphone to your customers: people also understand that ordinary individuals can get it wrong sometimes (celebs get no such leniency!).

For example, we know that a bad review can often make the other good ones seem more authentic.

So remember, UGC can be as sophisticated as anything a gaggle of marketers or advertisers can create. And it’s often a whole lot more persuasive.

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When creative agencies get it wrong