Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

Good advertising will create a connection between a brand and its audience, and there are many affective and creative ways to do this. One current popular method is the use of real people in advertising–but does this method work?

Real people in advertising are intended to establish a personal, emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. It’s a way for the brand to say, “Hey, we get you. You want to hear from people like you, not an actor with lines.” Unfortunately, many brands miss the opportunity to connect with their audience by putting their real people in scripted-reality situations that leave the audience wondering: who are these people and how “real” are they? In fact, if you search “real people in advertising” you are likely to pull up one of the many parody videos. Side note: if you haven’t seen these, you should watch because they are hilarious!

Rules of Authenticity

I love these parodies in the video because they break down exactly what you SHOULD NOT DO, when using real people as your onscreen talent. Let’s break these things down into the Rules of Authenticity for Real People in Advertising.

Rule number 1: If you use real people don’t try to make a generic commercial just featuring real people. Make sure everything is real. For example, if your spokesperson feels fake so will your real people.

Rule number 2: Real people are not good at lying on camera, don’t feed them things to say. It will feel inauthentic. Let them be themselves, for better or for worse, which leads us into…

Rule number 3: Embrace the unknown. Like a good documentary, you will find unexpected reactions and moments, and in them you may find the heart of the story. USE THEM, as they are authentic and the audience will feel that. Don’t be so locked to a script that it has you throwing away the good stuff.

Rule number 4: Design the desired outcome. Think of it as throwing the best surprise party ever. Find out about your people, what they like, and what they don’t and then design the experience around these details leading them to your desired outcome. If they have any idea walking into the surprise, it will influence their reactions, increasing the fakeness quotient.

Fakeness Quotient

Everything should be put through a filter when producing a commercial featuring real people. I call this filter the Fakeness Quotient. You want to keep this value as low as possible, because once you pass a certain threshold you will not only lose your audience but you will also come across as inauthentic which can be a huge struggle to overcome as a brand.

Real people in advertising can be a powerful tool when done right. The beauty of real people is the grit–a real person is about both the flaws and the beauty. In fact, a lot of times the flaws are what make them beautiful. Casting real people is a nice way to connect with consumers because consumers don’t feel like they are looking at mannequins. But let’s take that a step further, it’s not only the look of real people that audiences respond to, it’s how they are behaving–do we connect with their responses, their reactions, their words? Does it feel like authentic behavior?

Respect Your Audience

In the end, your commercial, your brand, is looking to share a story–even when using real people. In turn, audiences are looking to be understood, not just advertised to. In a world where so much feels contrived, what stands out is authenticity. Brands that are willing to show truth in the form of real reactions and real stories will set themselves apart from the pack.

A lot of our clients come to us and say that they want to tell a surprising story or have a surprising twist in their film. This can be done with real people too, but it requires nontraditional means in designing a surprising, and immersive experience to elicit the desired reaction for the story. The most important thing to keep in mind when creating a video for your consumers is that your audience is the storyteller–you are the designer.