One of the pervading themes I’ve noticed during the Interactive Festival has been the call for brand authenticity on the Internet. Basically, it’s asking for brands to be transparent with their advertising – no tricks, no fakery, just to be straight-up honest with their intentions to advertise to people.
It’s a noble call, and probably the right call, too. But the problem is that, for many brands, they are still terrified of the web. There’s some valid reasons for this. The web can seem like an advertising gauntlet, with hordes of anonymous, angry users who can write anything they want, say anything they want about anything – including a brand’s next ad campaign or product. This unchecked and unfiltered voice can really make a brand hesitant to advertise without exerting some more control. The web, more and more, is about connecting people to people. Not necessarily people to ads. That’s why you’ll find brands implementing tactics that make brands sound like people.
The Sony PSP campaign is one of the flagship examples. Some kids named Jeremy and Charlie start a blog about how much they love the PSP. Seems pretty innocent. Except the whole thing was created by Sony. In the grand scheme of things, this might seem like not such a big deal. But to regular Internet users this is a cardinal sin. It’s deception at its worse.
There are countless other examples of this, carried out by some big-level brands. HP. Wal-mart. Cisco. ESPN. The list can go on. Is this really all about deception? To a degree, yes. But I think what this is about is more of a rational fear generating irrational tactics. It’s brands learning, through their mistakes, how to find the right way to advertise on this ever-increasing social web.