The customer is not a moron. She’s a YouTuber

In a digital world so familiar with personal brand building, brands need to demonstrate self-awareness in advertising - or risk being ignored.

The platforms now exploited by brands and marketers, have been home to a generation of brand builders since the birth of social media. Carefully curated personal profiles are refined and finessed, whilst users upload content which seeks to inform, educate and entertain.

For marketeers this means our potential consumers have not only our toolbox in arm's reach, but they have grown overtly familiar with what were once the tricks of the marketing trade. Consider the photo of Hillary Clinton being welcomed by a sea of selfie takers at a political rally last month. A symbol of a generation far more interested in their personal brand story, than experiencing the company of the presidential candidate.

Photograph: Barbara Kinney/Hillary Clinton campaign

Photograph: Barbara Kinney/Hillary Clinton campaign

A shift in mindset

The aspiration of becoming a blogger or YouTube star, hence receiving piles of swag from brands in exchange for a ‘review’, is a well-trodden path. If you doubt the sophistication of these new marketing ‘pros’, check out VidCon, the video star conference in its seventh year and expanding globally. Consequently, the democratisation of brand building means consumers are now au fait with the idea of a celebrity being coerced into manufacturing a point of view.

Given these shifts in consumer mindset, marketers have options; firstly, to put their head in the sand and to continue advertising as before. Take the sponsorship schmooze between Quorn and Mo Farah for example. With Mo spontaneously exclaiming ‘Get Quorn sausages on your team!’ after a round robin game of tennis. I’m not saying this approach doesn’t help sales, but for savvy consumers the conceit is painful, right? It distinctly feels like a bad case of Dad dancing at a wedding - the audience may be laughing, but the joke is on Dad. And he's showing his age.


The alternative, is to demonstrate self-awareness of these mindset shifts and the modern world in which we live through the advertisement. This approach takes heed from David Ogilvy’s advice that ‘The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.’ What’s more, it evolves the premise for 2016 to recognise ‘The customer is not a moron. She’s an aspiring blogger and promotes products herself’. Not quite as pithy, but you get the jist. If our audience know what we’re up to when it comes to celebrity endorsements and we want to engage them, why not invite them inside the tent?

Take Oasis’ ‘Refreshing Stuff’ campaign which parody the conversations typically heard in sales and marketing departments across the country. Jibes such as ‘It’s summer. You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets’ appeared on bus stops. This is a brand not hedging their bets with the only D-lister they could afford. Instead they allow would-be-consumers a wry smile as they recognise the conceit of ads and celebrity endorsements. It's both refreshing and respectful to recognise both the intelligence of your audience and the foibles of the marketing world.

Another example is the Nissan #DoItForUs sponsorship of the Olympics. The Nissan team pranked Olympians into considering ridiculous demands that would ‘Get the brand into actual events’. These included asking Katerina Johnson-Thompson to hold her breath to symbolise zero emissions and proposing all athletes medal celebrations crescendo with signing 'N' for Nissan. These candid camera reactions provide a bold example of how sponsorship can be used authentically now that the lines have been blurred between brands and consumers.

A final instance of this thinking in action comes from Joss Whedon’s transparent use of ‘a shit-ton of famous people’ to achieve his political ambitions. Save the Day’s star-studded film features celebrity endorsers encouraging people to vote (not for Trump) whilst ticking off all of the genre’s clichés. Including a brave trivialisation of voting being rewarded with a Mark Ruffalo nude scene in his next film. The ironic spot has over 7m views and counting and the content has been positively yanked into popular culture.

Be frank, messy and real

The lesson here is to assume you are talking to a budding brand builder themselves. The old tricks, whilst they may still have some gas in the tank, won't deliver the results they once did. Instead, by appreciating the intelligence of your audience and bravely revealing (part of) your marketing agenda, brands can use those celebrity endorsement dollars wisely. The conversation will be frank, messy and real, but it’s how, whether marketeer or not, we all converse, and if we want to have an impact in our interactions, we’ll need to learn to talk up, not down.

OpinionEmily Horswell