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Branded Authenticity


Tyler Hively
Writer - accpl

In an effort to connect with consumers, can brands manufacture caring about something? Should they? Does silence translate to not caring at all? And what is worse, a tone-deaf authenticity or attaching your brand to a divisive, but passionate, cause?  

I can think of few things as dangerous as a tone-deaf brand with a social media account. Maybe a knife that makes fun of your insecurities, that would be bad but not nearly as a dangerous. The thing is, brands need to be seen and heard. Without being constantly seen and heard, they simply disappear. Vanish. If a brand tweets and nobody likes it, does the brand even exist?

Who cares?

Brands are built on people caring. Companies, of course, are built on capitalism and economies and many other things I do not understand but brands, they exist solely to make people care.

Sometimes there’s a tradeoff for all this caring. Take the Toms brand. These shoes are unbecoming and expensive but for a good cause, right? There is a brand people can care about. How about the brand of the Toyota Prius. Now, here is a slow, expensive, objectively ugly car BUT the brand says that you care about the environment so the tradeoff is fair. Just, even.

These are brands that helped make caring cool. Now everyone has some kind of manufactured give back program. Hell, I used to work for a startup with a give back program. Sure, we gave some money out but it hardly played into our ethos in the lease.

For many current brands, the main objective is to just get into the conversation. To get people to care. And therein lie the problems.

First of all, it should be noted that brands, the voice of brands, the puppeteers manipulating the strings of brands, they’re just people. 9-5ers with rent, liberal arts degrees, and cat food to pick up on the way home. Sometimes, in an effort to get consumers to care about a brand, they go down the path of least resistance. Which often manifests poorly.

In September of 2013, America was painfully remembering the events of 9/11. AT&T also remembered. With a tweet. Advertising a phone. Cool.

AT&T knew that people already cared deeply about 9/11 so they tried to attach their brand to it. They figured, hey, people are interested in this topic, how do we throw in our branded two cents and get a kickstart on people caring about what we have to say.

The tweet backfired and was only seen as pandering and offensive to literally anyone that read it. Many since have learned from AT&T’s mistake and decide to stay silent on issues.

However, and this is where I’m struggling, we don’t live in 2013 anymore. The technology, the platforms, the media, even politics; everything has changed dramatically. More and more people are reaching out, making their beliefs known, and participating in their communities like we haven’t seen in generations. If you’re not tracking and supporting causes, it seems like you don’t care at all.

And that’s where brands are today. Watching, figuring out both what their consumers care about and what they care about internally. More than ever before, brands are expected to take a stand. To come out and actually say something of consequence. Whether or not they do, none of us know. But I’ll be the first to shoot down the next pandering, tone-deaf, ridiculous brand tweet.