Our favourite brands communicate through visual platforms like Instagram and we are most receptive to the ones that speak to our individual interests and desires.
We live in a world where there is a brand for everyone; sometimes buying into them can be a fulfilling experience. For me, this is the outdoor/travel industry.
Over the years, on Instagram in particular, we’ve been witness to the massive success that outdoor brands have had; gathering thousands of loyal followers who scroll in admiration through a corona of wave and sunset photos paired with pseudo-poetic captions. All because their audience gets it. They know the feeling of being in the water at sundown, the forest at dusk – the list goes on. So why do I find myself unfollowing so many outdoor brands?
There’s an unavoidable irony that a brand who would promote “going outdoors, losing track of time…getting lost” in itself relies on people doing the opposite by staring at their phones absorbing this content. But I think this is forgivable as, to a degree, the brand relies on blurring the lines of realism.
We can’t always be on skiing down a mountainside, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy seeing it digitally. I would go so far as to say that regular exposure to this content can be a reminder to venture out and find time for the things you love. The problem, however, arises when a brand steps too far over this line and becomes an off-putting cliché. If a brand, for instance, over-romanticises something like surfing – a surfer will have a severe adverse reaction, aka ‘mouth sickness,’ to that post. They might even unfollow. I don’t think it would be so harmful if surfers weren’t so attached to the reality this visual marketing draws from. If a brand dares sour that reality, with unauthentic copy and banal photographs, they will pay the price.
As marketeers, we have a responsibility to keep our customers’ attention, but we can’t do this unless we keep their respect. If the message we put out there, as so many outdoor lifestyle brands do, is more cringeworthy than relevant, you risk irritating your customer to the point of losing them. There’s no harm in trying something new, and it’s worth stating that authenticity doesn’t inherently mean realism in this instance.
Two of my favourite photographers have totally different styles; one presents surfing as a gritty, punk sport and the other goes for an emotional, haptic description of the experience. The reason so many interpretations of different things are accepted is that they are born from a sincere place; it can be difficult for brands to do since, after all, they’re trying to sell you a product, but as Di’ Angelo says, “authenticity starts in the heart.” If you endeavour to create something that just ticks the box, that fills the quota for the week, you won’t build a genuine audience – you’re more likely to just make me mouth sick.
As a content creator operating predominantly through visuals, I am constantly reminded of the importance of authenticity; reminded by “the cringe” that I must strive to be genuine, ambitious and original. There’s nothing wrong with alternate perspectives, whimsical takes, out-of-the-box thinking – but remember who you’re talking to and ultimately how it will make them feel. It’s your choice if they resonate positively or throw up a little mouth sick.