Bourne, not Bond: Real Experiences vs Marketing-speak

Do you recall the days of classic Agent 007, James Bond? (Sean Connery was my favorite.)

He was suave, debonair, and hardly ever got a scratch. Bond drove expensive cars, wore fabulous clothes, ate at the finest restaurants, and always, always got the girl.

There was a time when advertising was the same (still is). Slick marketing messages conceived in Madison Avenue high-rises delivered mass marketing style via broadcast and print were consumed and believed by the buying public, no questions asked.

If manicurist Madge said a certain brand of dishwashing liquid softens hands while using it, who were we to disagree?

Not any longer. We now live in the age of Jason Bourne, not James Bond. Unlike his counterpart, Bourne got beaten up, shot at, and otherwise knocked around with great regularity.

Rarely does he ever walk away from a fight unscathed. Neither does he get the girl. In fact, his girlfriend was killed. Bourne’s is a world of gritty, cold, hard reality.

That’s the world advertisers find themselves in as well. Consumers have little trust in marketing messages and, therefore, advertisers have to work much harder to vie for their attention and, more importantly, their trust.

Another example of this real experience vs. marketing-speak mentality can be seen in what arguably has become in recent years the most popular genre of television entertainment, reality TV.

Programs run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous and cover every topic imaginable, from drug and alcohol interventions, to bounty hunting to modeling, cooking, real estate sales, and home decorating. Oh, yes, let us not forget musical entertainment, ala American Idol.

What’s the reason for such popularity? Within all of it, there is an underlying theme, that what I’m watching has some degree of realism. I can identify with the participants, imagining myself in their place as their peer.

These “ordinary” people, whether placed in similarly ordinary or exotic circumstances, carry with them a level of authenticity.

I believe this stigma is a sign of our times that carries over into advertising. Advertisers and marketing professionals who understand this will do well in making the changes necessary to re-establish trust with the consumer.

To their credit, some are doing their best to bring some level of reality to the 30-second spot. It is becoming much more commonplace, for example, to see the CEO of a Fortune 1000 speaking on behalf of the company. Every once in a while they even apologize for wrongdoings.

Why the skepticism?

There are a number of reasons consumers are skeptical of advertising. First, it’s interruptive. I don’t know anyone who welcomes a series of 30-second spots during their favorite TV show.

Neither does one pick up a magazine for the sole purpose of scanning the ads. Seth Godin, in his seminal 1999 book Permission Marketing, says, “For ninety years, marketers have relied on one form of advertising almost exclusively. I call it Interruption Marketing. Interruption, because the key to each and every ad is to interrupt what the viewers are doing in order to get them to think about something else.”

Advertising is not why we watch television, listen to the radio, or browse a website. Interruption gives way to aggravation and a search for the remote.

A second reason for such rising skepticism is deceptive advertising. Misleading claims, bait-and-switch techniques, false comparisons that suggest a certain brand is better than its competitors without stating that outright…we’ve all been there.

Often, it’s not that the advertiser intended to deceive necessarily, but simply that the ads over-promised while the product or service under-delivered. Once we have been bitten by claims that don’t live up to their promise, we tend to shy away the next time around.

Of course, part of this could be the consumer’s own fault. “The anticipation of a thing is always greater than the realization of it,” someone said when describing how our assumptions regarding a product’s performance can set both it and us up for failure.

Yet a third reason for this growing distrust is a company’s inability to connect with customers at a human level. Of all the reasons, that may be the most damning.

The great promise offered by social media was that real, genuine, honest, human connections can be made between the company and consumer that will engender trust and build a foundation for long-term relationships.

In the end, it is not so much a matter of knowing why consumers are skeptical, but simply accepting that they are. The antidote is not more mass-market messaging but engaging them in conversation.

That’s why I am such a believer in the power of social media. It can help reconnect with consumers, rebuild the bridge of trust, renew customer loyalty, re-energize brand evangelism, and re-humanize the company.

(Anyone want to guess which movie Sean Connery and Matt Damon starred in together?)

This is an updated version of content originally published in chapter one of my book, The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media.

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Freelance B2B writer and editor, digital marketing instructor, and author.

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Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

Freelance B2B writer and editor, digital marketing instructor, and author.

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