Authenticity, but at what cost?

Many people push brands to be authentic. But what does that mean, asks Tom Biro MD at Rusty George Creative.

In my last column in this space, I made some predictions for 2019, one of which was about people seeking more authenticity from brands and organizations. And while the Super Bowl LIII ads certainly brought some interesting stories to light, one of the most notable things a brand did Sunday was post what seemed to be an allusion to depression.

Amidst the massive ad buys, tweets, YouTube views, and everything else viewers would see that day were five words from an orange drink on Twitter. Sunny D tweeted "I can’t do this anymore" seemingly out of nowhere, and hundreds of thousands of engagements happened. Yep, that Sunny D.

At first, it could have been seen as a simple mistake. Many people managing brand accounts have mistakenly sent a tweet on a company account instead of their personal one, especially on a weekend.

But alas, it wasn’t a mistake. Was it a real cry for help? Was it an experiment to see how fans, followers, and others would react? Was this a super inexpensive way to get thousands of people to pay attention to you? Maybe it was all of the above.

Needless to say, those simple five words sent Sunny D to the top of the Twitter charts for a hot minute, with dozens of other brand accounts responding. From MoonPie to Wikipedia to UberEats, the responses just kept coming. A few days later the original tweet has upwards of 142K retweets and 325K likes.

But it also led to a pretty harsh takedown piece by Eater, and myriad comments online with opinions from all sorts of directions.

Is this authenticity, or is it, as Eater’s Greg Morabito suggests, a "calculated stunt" that is simply "an act of pure exploitation"? Consider a recent agency survey by Digiday wherein 32% of almost 450 agency pros said they were worried about their mental health and it’s easy to see that depression is no joking matter.

But coming back to authenticity, while many people say they want the brands they support to be more authentic, what does that really mean? Is there a line or limit? And is what seems like a completely left field tweet from a food brand where we’re moving as marketers?

Given the responsiveness by dozens of other brands from all types of industries, it seems like someone thinks this is a good idea. The (somewhat) jaded marketer in me wonders if this was something created by a comms person who then coordinated between a number of other agency partners to create engagement around it.

Ultimately, there’s an interesting divide between those that "cover" the marketing space and the thousands of people who’ve interacted with Sunny D and other brands that have been tweeting on the subject this week.

Many seem to have no issue with this, while others find it wildly insulting. Years from now, we’ll likely forget about that one moment in time when an orange drink tweeted what might be seen as an imminent threat if a friend or loved had one posted it.

But is this type of message here to stay? And if it is, will brand managers carry the mantle legitimately, or simply use it as another way to drive awareness of their products and services? Only time will tell.

Tom Biro resides in Seattle and is MD at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, Washington. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at tom@rustygeorge.com.

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