No One Wants Polish, They Want Real

I was reading Martin Lindstrom’s new book, Brandwashed, and this quote really struck me as being relevant to digital advertising:

“We’re sick and tired of picture-perfect babies and flawless models. Why do we love YouTube videos so much? Because they’re imperfect, amateurish, and the people in them remind us of us.”

This is why, in places like Whole Foods, we’re seeing more and more Brussels sprouts and tomatoes still tethered to their stalks, many with dirt still clinging to the roots and leaves still hanging from the stalks.”

I’ve believed for months now, that consumers like their branded content, rough, quick, and organic feeling. Instead of releasing one perfect, polished commercial about a car, release a lot of iPhone videos showing behind the scenes factory construction and road tests. People appreciate and want REAL. In fact, if you look at history, the evidence supports the idea that consumers care about features and not quality.

This explains the success of the Wii with its more basic graphics, but cool motion control, over systems with richer high-end graphics.

It also explains why HDTV took decades to come to the United States. While spectrum licensing was part of the issue, the other issue was that most consumers didn’t really care. In fact, many consumers can’t differentiate between EDTV, HDTV, plasma, and LCD. People like quality but it’s not the governing factor. People like Charlie Bit My Finger, not rich, elaborate flash sites.

We even want simulacrum REAL. My 20 month old got baby jeans that came pre-ripped with holes in them; my wife explained they are cute because they look like worn adult jeans. Real and rough is a cultural aesthetic as much as it’s a sensing for the closeness to the unpolished real.

Real and rough is also more functional. I download all my iPad movies in standard definition, instead of high definition. You typically want to download a video the minute you are about to leave your house or hotel. HD takes too long to download, and either I can’t tell the quality difference or don’t care.

Real content, content that is rough and “discovered” is far more exciting for users to engage with and share – not unlike the way blog posts are more real-time and interesting to comment on, as opposed to sending a letter to the editor of a magazine or newspaper.

It’s the same reason why Facebook messages, has sought to move away from the formality and distinctions between email, chat, SMS.

I think we’re moving towards a less formal more “real” age in our marketing and tools; social works especially well with this aesthetic. No one wants polish, they want real.

Jon Steinberg, President of BuzzFeed