A few years ago, Domino’s aired a highly unusual campaign.  It featured focus group customers absolutely trashing Domino’s pizza.  People were shown telling Domino’s that their crust tasted like cardboard, and that, basically, their pizza had “no soul.”  

At the time of the campaign, Domino’s stock was selling for less than $15 a share.  Why would Domino’s choose to air their dirty laundry in this way?

Domino’s management was truly stung by the criticism, and genuinely embraced it in seeking to re-invent its recipe.  When they hit on the new formula, they faced another harsh reality:  marketing messages of “new and improved pizza” are overused and were simply not going to make an impression on their target market.

Authenticity Like This Works Because It Disarms Customers

Domino’s decision to honestly depict their transformation journey in their marketing was a precursor to a massive trend that is impacting brands today:  authenticity.  They made light, and made fun of, their past failures to deliver on their promises. 

What Domino’s discovered is the following:  if people trust your intentions, they will then listen to what you have to say.   By first showing vulnerability before talking about their new recipe, customers were in a frame of mind to find out why Domino’s was making fun of itself. 

And customers began to give them another chance.  The campaign kicked off a turnaround that has led to their stock price peaking at over $500 per share last year.

Brand Authenticity Is a Big Trend Today Because of Millennials

Why is self-effacement and authenticity apart of so many brands’ messaging today – even “serious” brands like Lenovo and Progressive Insurance?  It’s because today’s buyers – especially Millennials – want to feel a connection with the companies they do business with. 

An article in The Economist defined brand authenticity as the demonstration of “well-grounded-ness” by a company.  The same story also showed that brand authenticity is second in importance to Millennials in deciding which brands to buy — just behind the demonstration of brand loyalty.

So how does a brand demonstrate grounded-ness?  The same way an individual does.    By being humble, not taking oneself so seriously, and by not trying to look “overly-polished.” 

In addition, The American Marketing Association reports that self-deprecating advertising allows consumers are able to see a different, less-polished side to brands, making them more relatable and down-to-earth.

Buick Demonstrates a Willingness to Let Go of Being “Polished”

Buick did a great job of using authenticity and self-deprecating humor to re-orient customers who associated its products with older gentlemen.  Buick had re-designed its cars to be more appealing to younger people, but like Domino’s, was challenged to convince customers that the brand had changed for the better.

Instead of embracing the dignified image of its past or trying to simply shout “new and improved”, Buick’s marketing humorously addressed the fact that it had allowed its reputation to get a little long in the tooth.   The “this is not your grandfather’s Buick campaign” has been credited with moving the brand into consideration for an entire new generation.

Here’s What’s Keeping You from a More Authentic Brand

So why don’t more brands embrace humor and self-effacement, especially “serious” B2B brands? It’s because they tend to be internally focused. 

Rather than embrace the reality of customer perception, many teams spend their time talking about why customer feedback is wrong.  If Domino’s did this, they’d still be making cardboard crust.  Buick’s slogan would still be “wouldn’t you rather have a Buick?”  And Millennials would still be saying “talk to me in 20 years, Buick.”

Brands that have improved their value proposition but have still not successfully turned around their results may benefit from a brand authenticity campaign.  Also, brands who’s have an aging target market are good candidates for this approach

The Four-Step Recipe for Creating a Brand Authenticity Campaign

If this is you, your authenticity campaign lies at the end of the following four steps.  First, collect and open-mindedly review customer perceptual data.  What do they think of you and your competitors overall, good and bad?   Embrace it all, especially the bad! 

Second, boil the feedback down to a single word or phrase that the target market associates with your brand and, if possible, a phrase associated with your main competitors.  As positioning pioneers Ries & Trout found years ago, these phrases are how customers organize companies and brands in their heads.

For Domino’s, the phrase might have been “cardboard crust.”  For Buick, “it was old-man’s car.”  How will you know if you have done this right?  You won’t like the word or phrase!  Otherwise, why would you want to change the brand perception?

The third step is to modify your product or service’s value proposition.  Marketing communications can’t be smoke and mirrors — your campaign will backfire if you are just putting a new spin on your aging or under-performing product

The final step is to figure out how you can authentically change your brand perception.  Is there an opportunity to use self-effacement and humor to change minds like Domino’s and Buick did? 

If you do it right, people will be in the right mind frame to hear how your offering has changed.  And if those changes are attractive to customers, your campaign will be successful.

Why You Need to Be First in Your Industry to Do This

A brand authenticity campaign might be just what you need to turn damaging customer perceptions around when it comes to your business.  It will ensure that your updated value propositions aren’t ignored because of past perceptual baggage.

Find out what space you and your competitors own in the brains of your customers and change it by embracing humor and/or authenticity.  If your company does it first, your competitors will look like copy cats — the opposite of being authentic — if they try a similar approach.  That’s a good reason to start now.

Related Posts