The Naked Truth
As of late, that word, transparency, has been slipping into more and more strategic meetings—meetings where core attributes, brand presence, and social media responsiveness are discussed. No longer just a cool graphic device, transparency has hopped the fence and is now significantly shaping the way companies communicate with their customers.

Whether your focus is B2C or B2B, taking note of this trend is important—trends can turn into movements. Being an authentic voice for clients is important. Maybe critical.

With the emergence of social media and the advancement of technology come a steady flow of chatter. People are talking to one another constantly—watching television while browsing the web while checking their Facebook newsfeeds while asking their spouses about their days. The conversation never stops.

So what does this have to do with advertising and marketing? Well, big brands can no longer hide behind a one-way conversation issued by their corporate websites. The veil has been lifted. We can see through the marketing speak. We know the tricks. Obviously, not all companies are the sinister behemoths I may paint them to be. It appears that companies are sincerely trying to be more honest and upfront about their strengths and weaknesses. And it is this transparency that attracts loyal customers. So how does that, in turn, affect the people designing the advertising and marketing? It’s just one more layer to consider as we craft our creative.
How do we know what’s real?
It’s not easy. There are shades of gray. After “auditing” television for a few hours, it’s obvious that so-called reality is everywhere. The public is welcomed into the private lives of complete strangers. Cheesy, social-experiment–type reality shows like The Bachelor were just the beginning. There’s the real life of arctic fisherman, people losing weight right in front of our eyes, people going under the knife in real time, even an inside look at people’s deepest, darkest secrets—like eating laundry detergent. Everything seems to be a documentary of something, whether truly real or a carefully produced version of real. It’s interesting. Little attempt if any has been made to shield the audience from the ugliness, pain, humiliation, or absurdities of life. Real life.

When beginning any creative pursuit, we need to do some of our own auditing. People watching. What are real people about? What do they want? What moves them? What do they look like and how do they talk to one another?
People. Real people.
“She looks too polished—not a real mom.”
“He would never really wear that while working on his car.”
“Let’s be honest. Kids’ hair is never that perfect.”

Designers and stylists want to make everything so perfect. So pretty. Me included. It’s fantasy. Hiring beautiful models, sourcing designer clothes, and applying photo-finish makeup appeal to our innate need to create beauty. But is that what sells? Not always. I’d rather buy my face wash from a before/after commercial featuring an anonymous teenager than a beautiful model who I know does not buy her face soap at Walgreens. If I could afford it, I’d get a $500 facial every week too, Jennifer Aniston. Sadly, that is not the case. Nor is it the case for most consumers.

It seems that advertising and marketing firms agree. Consumers are not tricked by careful Photoshop work; they can see through it. They see the fine print at the bottom of the television screen. They may not be able to read what it says, but its mere presence is a warning to not be fooled by the pretty pictures. On the flip side, some advertising/marketing agencies go to the opposite extreme. Fantasy. Ludicrous claims so far-fetched that you know it’s all for show. Seen any Axe commercials lately? A complete 180 from real yet effective nonetheless—but that’s an entirely different article.
Some real perspective, unscripted
I think most designers, given the choice, would rather use imagery or themes that an audience can relate to. I’ve personally always been against over-produced, over-retouched photography. You can’t fool most people. The transparency trend only reinforces that belief.  SPENCER KING, DESIGN DIRECTOR
Back to reality. Dove, a Unilever brand, is embracing transparent marketing. Their “Real Beauty” campaign began in 2004 and has lasted seven years with measurable success. The fact that I can recall the campaign by name is a pretty good indicator of the impact it has maintained. A little disruptive. Different. Real. And beautifully executed. The gloves (and the clothes) are off.

Transparency does not only manifest itself visually. It comes across in the way people talk to one another—the way a company speaks to you, the consumer.
To script or not to script.
The way businesses appear is one thing. The way they sound is another. When it comes to writing, it’s easy to make lofty claims of integrity, innovation, and even environmental responsibility. But what does all that really mean? Something that’s innovative to me (making gas a little cheaper) and something innovative to the world (reducing global carbon emissions) are vastly different. Tell me how you’re going to affect my life. Don’t greenwash. Consumers are certainly sensitive to global warming, but that may not compel them to believe you without some real impact on their lives or in their communities.

The process of actually writing in an honest, transparent manner is not easy. Individual words are important. The tone is important. The “best deal around” doesn’t tell me a thing. Really the best? Best compared to what? If it’s the best deal, why? Was it in a flood? Cause someone’s hair to fall out? It’s the best price for a worthless product I don’t need? Be specific.
Time is our most valuable asset. Wasting a consumer’s time with bogus marketing spin is a sure way to guarantee you won’t get another minute of it. DAVID FULLER, SENIOR DESIGN DIRECTOR
Some real perspective, unscripted
Stating relevant, compelling aspects of your brand takes some truth serum. Individual words matter. Are you really the best? Superlatives are a red flag in the minds of consumers. Real and tangible claims resonate more than unsubstantiated, lofty ones. This past January, Sonic customers went online and demanded the return of the campaign featuring “those two guys.” Why? The guys are regular joes—self-effacing, a little off-color, not too overly done up. People like them. They relate to them. And, as a result, Sonic is selling a few more Tater Tots.
The truth is that consumers are savvy. Much more savvy than in the past. There are so many outlets to help them compare prices and read reviews. Regardless of a best-deal claim, the truth can be found at the click of a mouse. Why not lay the truth out there to begin with rather than have a disgruntled soccer mom blast it over twitter later?

An honest perspective creates advertising that’s usually funny, engaging, and real. The characters are likable and relatable. You just may be more apt to listen and believe what they are saying. Overall, there are lots of strategies that get your brand’s message out there. Transparency is just one. Just keep in mind that your audience can call your bluff.
Some real perspective, unscripted
People simply don’t want to feel manipulated anymore.
Katie Gwin Jenkins, Design Director
Katie serves as the creative lead for a handful of Oden clients. As a devoted brand steward, her experience in translating high-level brand systems into real-world applications, across multiple channels, audiences, and situations, has taught her to see what’s real—really working and not really working.

Contributors: Spencer King, Design Director; David Fuller, Senior Design Director; Jeff Blankenship, Associate Creative Director

For comments or questions about this article, contact Katie Jenkins at For information on Oden contact Tina Lazarini Niclosi at

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