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Keeping it real!

Developing brand connections using real-world storytelling
4 mins 29 s


Claire Hoe, Creative Design Director

July 2024

In todays online space dominated with fear around AI and automation, filled with perfectly manufactured images and curated stories, Claire Hoe, our UK Creative Design Director shares her thoughts (from her sofa) around authentic brands who connect with consumers through ‘real-life’ truths.

Picture this, it’s a typical Saturday night, I’m sitting down to watch the first episode of Britain’s Got Talent, fearing the impulsive weekly addiction kick in and feeling the life being sucked out of me for several weeks ahead. When a debuting TV ad caught my attention; YourWagen, the new VW campaign. I do wonder if it stood out because it was a welcome relief from dancing dogs and utter craziness…or was it appealing because of something far more interesting?

Have they used real people and their actual cars?
Is this AI generated?
I really need a pair of Lucy & Yak* dungarees.

I did some digging and it turns out the VW campaign is all very real! VW cleverly, creatively collaborated with real-life, non-actor car owners to share their poignant and authentic VW love stories (with some nice accidental Lucy & Yak* brand placement at the end, or maybe a very intentional brand collab, who knows) but it definitely worked for me.

Maybe it was the personal connections, visualised through home video and photographs, featuring the VW brand, that has seen them through many life events, good and bad. It’s heartwarming and rings true to many, even if you don’t, and have never owned a VW.

It’s nostalgic appeal, backed by the 1970’s hit “Thank you for being a friend”, is heartwarming and a world away from the traditional car ad with a focus on shiny new tech or features. Granted, not outwardly pushing boundaries, but a fearless approach, nonetheless. Giving appreciation to the real-life advocates that make the brand what it is and what it stands for, “The People’s Car”.

Positive affirmation

I do feel these days I only ever really look out for TV ads at Christmas time, or if they pop up on my socials, maybe it’s the ‘supposed’ ad-free subscriptions that don’t help with that. Imagine my delight when I saw another big hitter of an ad had also landed, good old PG Tips.

Except less of the old, as the heritage brand engaged with its audience on a fresh new level. Building on its new brand line, “It’s not just tea. It’s progress,” the Rock Solid ad hits a different spot from its campaigns of yesteryear (I do admit to still having a PG Tips monkey sitting by my desk mind, small things). We see Top Boy’s, Ashley Walters giving himself a “you-can-do-it” pep talk over his morning brew. Set to the sounds of Ezra Collective and directed by Steve McQueen, it’s fair to say Britain certainly does have talent. As Walters turns directly to speak to the camera with a positively affirming message, it’s relatable and relevant.

With fears of life becoming too fast paced and mental wellbeing being a high priority for many of us, this taps perfectly into the quest for ‘taking a moment’ by acknowledging the small wins, as well as the big, and that it’s good for the soul. In my case these moments would take place preferably over a flat white, rather than a more traditional brew, but each to their own.

Breaking taboos

Brands are leaning into real-life more and more. Showing an understanding of the world we live in, acknowledging consumers hopes and fears, as well as addressing their needs and wants, and how their brand has a responsibility in playing a part in that.

Refreshingly, taboo topics are slowly being destigmatised, through honest, real portrayals and open conversations. Women’s health has been a hot topic for many brands, and rightfully so, with key themes around period poverty and menopause.

Banishing shame

As a fitness enthusiast, the Always campaign caught my attention. Tackling the topic of period anxiety in sport, team GB Olympian Jazmin Sawyers champions the latest campaign. Not shying away from mental health and the strain managing your cycle can cause. It’s an empowering, educational campaign. Encouraging females to have confidence in themselves whilst taking part in sport, to understand and manage their bodies and accept that it’s ok to do so. Being the official period product of the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics, Always are set to continue this campaign throughout the year. They’ve cleverly embraced the latest AI technology, to bring back the world’s first female Olympic gold medallist, sailor Hélène de Pourtalès. Collaborating with her family, to recreate her outstanding 1900 performance that has inspired and empowered female athletes for generations.

Studio stools

I can’t talk about taboo topics without mentioning the Get Comfortable campaign by Andrex. Especially given that toilet humour is a daily occurrence in our Creative studio. The Andrex ads remove the embarrassment of going for a poo in the workplace, in a honest and humorous way. It’s refreshingly relatable and funny, resonating with every one of us regardless of how comfortable and confident you are. We are all human and need to poo. It’s a brilliant departure from the category norm, setting the brand apart from other toilet paper brands for sure. Good to see the cute pup has remained, for comfort and a reassuring nod if nothing else.

Cautiously curious

All the examples I have mentioned empathise with real-life, fearlessly portraying honest and true representations of how life can be and is for many of us. That isn’t to say that escapism isn’t needed sometimes, far from it. A balance of reality and fantasy is paramount, especially as technologies advance and become part of our everyday lives, often without us even realising it.

A need to escape the everyday monotony as we know it, can be just as appealing as familiarity. But I do think that there is a still a fear of the unknown when it comes to AI in particular. I know I for one, am still hesitant over its ‘power’ but also recognise the positive potential, if used in the right way.

Refreshingly real

A great example of accepting developing technologies and embracing its power for the better, (by proactively looking to change what it perceives as idealistically beautiful) is Dove.

The brand has taken a stance and I am somewhat obsessed with its commitment to staying true to its values and positively challenging its biggest threat to date. To mark its 20th anniversary of being a ‘real beauty’ advocate The Code is a campaign making a vow to never use AI generated or distorted images in any of its advertising, in favour of continuing with real people. Highlighting the impact of AI, and the unattainable beauty standards that are being generated, Dove worked alongside AI experts to create a downloadable Real Beauty Prompt Playbook. Encouraging users to teach AI the true meaning of beauty through the power of the prompt. Celebrating real beauty, staying authentic and being inclusive for all is as empowering as ever. I may need to stop now before I slip into a rendition of America Ferrara’s iconic Barbie speech.

In a world of radical honesty, it’s compelling brand storytelling that has left me feeling wholesome and empowered. Brands that have a real purpose beyond the screen or pack.

Golden Buzzer

All of these brands are able to connect with us on an emotional level, inspiring us to do the right thing, empower each other, find our voice, be ourselves.  From sofa to studio, I love nothing more than working with brands to help them find their authentic, human voice. Help them unearth their truth. Stand out and connect with their audience.

Just like the contestants on Britain’s Got Talent!

So, let’s embrace the new and keep on keeping it real.

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