Back to awe: in a post-truth era, advertising is becoming too truthful

As we descend into a post-truth era, advertising seems to be headed in the opposite direction. In the pursuit of realness and authenticity, have we forgotten how to entertain?

Advertising doesn’t quite have the best reputation when it comes to telling the truth. (OK, out rightly deceptive advertising is thankfully a thing of the past)

So then authenticity became a thing a few years back (and it still is): Less Photoshop. Use influencers, not big-ticket celebrities. Tell real stories. Don’t brag, self-deprecate.

Somehow in all that effort to become more ‘authentic’, we might have forgotten how to create plain good advertising. As Ogilvy once said, “tell the truth, but make it fascinating”.

Late last year, every ad in one of London’s Tube stations was hijacked by photographs of cats. It was a hit. Just seeing the images online made you wish you were there.

This wasn’t a marketing stunt. The chap behind it, James Turner, founder of Glimpse, was inspired by the thought of “a world where public spaces made you feel good”.

Is that not quite revealing of the state of advertising today?

Have we lost sight of the power to entertain? To fascinate? To make people feel good?

Some brands have got it right. Splits on trucks, jumping off in space, gorillas playing drums, cartoon characters singing about death - You probably already know which campaigns I’m talking about.

But this isn’t the only way advertising needs to work. Humbug, as P.T Barnum would say, would do no harm.

There is also a business case for humbug. BrainJuicer says, “awe-inspiring” is the best booster of effectiveness in advertising. Researchers who analysed nearly 7,000 New York Times articles noted that a key factor among viral articles was evoking high-arousal emotions, including awe.

Creating awe.

After all, as we’ve learnt the hard way in the past year, emotions can trump, well, everything.

Amanda Lim is a planner at BBH Asia Pacific.

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