It’s been a hundred years that advertising has been more than a mere support to informed decision-making. As we know, the idea since has rather been to make ads create needs. Presented is a lifestyle only achievable through whatever product. Which requires a certain kind of authenticity: as a brand, you cannot appear like your consumer’s strict father or some form of lifestyle authority, but instead like the coolest friend who’s always up to the minute and has the most admirable advise on love, fashion, the world and everything.
Now, however, the industry is faced with a problem. Long has authority been neatly hidden behind nonchalant posters, clips and slogans. If not entirely - you surely didn’t know 30% of Oatly is owned by the Chinese government - it’s nevertheless become more apparent that it’s actually some financially interested men in suits and their advisors who dictate our lives from some conference room in a skyscraper. (My dear, precious life! Am I not self-determined? I act precisely the way they want me to!) How, then, do ad agencies and brand managers react once the crowd, more aware than ever of the lousy strategies used to lure them in, distrusts advertising?
The streets whisper the answer: brands do what I call honest advertising. They expose the ad industry’s internal workings. They parody the lying machinery, attempting to align themselves with the consumer. (Hey, we’re on your side!) Their ads read: THIS IS AN AD FOR OAT DRINK. (Oatly) Or: YOU COULD ALSO DRINK WATER. BUT THIS WOULD BE OF NO USE TO US. (Hakuma) Or, more subtly, above the ingredients on Oatly’s packaging: THE BORING SIDE. All this is meant to suggest that the brands are on our side, that they think like us, that they are our coolest friend.
However, as any child knows, pulling one's own leg amounts to a physical impossibility – which is certainly the case in advertising, too. In fact, nothing has changed – neither means nor end – whereas hypocrisy reaches unprecedented heights. (Charlatans!)
Why? Firstly, the means is the same old one: lifestyle advertising. No product today is ever presented in isolation: there’s always an environment in which it is intentionally placed, there’s people interacting or a narrative told. The story rarely corresponds to the product directly, but rather to the better or different life it enables. And this is no different here: brands that appear so honest as to parody advertising itself celebrate a life of critical awareness, of lurking behind the industry’s lies, and of the human qualities of sarcasm and self-irony. As ever, they establish a connection between product and lifestyle, and then seek to speak to audiences through this lifestyle.
Secondly, the end is the same old one, too: sales, what else?
To the house of lies is simply added another layer of facade: and in this sense, the trend of honest advertising is really the most dishonest one.