What the Moldy Whopper Can Teach Brands About Authenticity

Figure out who you are, and stick with it

When Burger King launched its outrageous ads featuring a moldy Whopper earlier this year, the biggest surprise was how unsurprising it was. 

Many consumers reacted to the moldy burger ad just like they would to a friend known for doing outrageous things, with a knowing response of, "That is such a Burger King thing to do!" If a brand can garner that type of reaction, then you know it has achieved something believable, which is what brands need now more than ever.

Consumer trust keeps hitting new lows; a new Salesforce study found that 54 percent of consumers don't think companies operate with their best interests in mind. At the same time, challenger brands are disrupting every category. Brands must also contend with the increasing fragmentation of channels. In this environment, consistency and authenticity are the only ways that brands can rise above the fray. 

Brands that get authenticity right.

Marketers can learn a lot from brands that convey authenticity in everything they do.

• Seventh Generation

While Burger King is one example of building an authentic brand around irreverence, another company that achieves a different, yet equally effective, form of authenticity in marketing is Seventh Generation. Recently the brand made headlines by buying a 60-second time slot during the State of the Union address, ensuring the topic of climate change came up during the president's speech. The moment was all the more powerful because it was completely authentic. And back in September, Seventh Generation donated its six-figure broadcast ad buy to an environmental nonprofit, proving its dedication to walking the walk. 

• Nordstrom

Another case in point is Nordstrom, which has built a consistent experience around being unapologetically fashion-obsessed, exemplified by their Kardashian partnerships. The retailer has tuned out any criticism it might take for partnering with the reality stars, embracing its new relationship with Kim's SKIMS undergarment line as well as its collaborations with Khloe's clothing brand Good American in both retail and marketing strategies.

• Instant Pot

Brands that are confident in their identities can leverage that confidence to make deeper connections with their consumers. Instant Pot, for example, has a private Facebook page that is largely run by its users, making a bold statement that the brand is brave enough to relinquish its social media voice to consumers. This feels especially authentic to a brand that can cite Amazon reviews as the key to its retail success.

Three keys to authenticity.

Here are three ways that brands can achieve authenticity like Burger King, Nordstrom, Seventh Generation and Instant Pot: 

• Establish a strong identity.

Brands have to know who they are; place a stake in the ground and stick with it. As Burger King CMO Fernando Machado said, "When you do something bold, something that stands out, people will criticize it … Facing criticism is part of doing something great, something different." Once you establish your identity, trust your consumer. 

• Do not depend on ads alone.

Marketers cannot rely on their messaging to be just in their ads. Authentic behavior should ladder up and inform across all touchpoints. Actions speak louder than words, so pair your messages with brand behaviors. 

• Make consistency the top priority.

Brands can have the most unbelievable video on YouTube, but if a customer walks into a store and finds sales associates who are not educated on the brand values, that disconnect creates a chasm that weakens the relationship with the consumer. It is imperative to break down any organizational silos to achieve consistency in all areas.

The bottom line.

Authenticity in marketing matters now more than ever. By being bold and consistent, brands can achieve an authentic positioning that inspires passion and loyalty among consumers. 

Profile picture for user Yuna Park
Yuna Park
Yuna Park is director of engagement at Forsman & Bodenfors New York.

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