Your Guide to Avoiding a Cringe-worthy Advertisement in 2019

With the recent backlash from the cringeworthy advertising campaigns created by Gillette, Pepsi, H&M and more, it’s never been clearer that many of the world’s top brands are out-of-touch with the general public. Despite the backlash campaigns similar to these have received in the past though, they keep happening, illustrating the divide even further.

On top of being just plain disingenuous or unethical, having cringeworthy ads can have big-time consequences on your bottom line and brand image, so taking every precaution you can to avoid putting one out into the world is worthwhile. Why?

For one, it’s important to know that millennials – a consumer group who hold over $200 billion in purchasing power in the United States alone – can smell inauthentic marketing from a mile away. This makes sense given both millennials and Gen Z grew up exiting out of spammy pop-up ads and skipping through YouTube pre-all ads, making it easy to tune out content that doesn’t add value to them.

Additionally, with the rise of the internet and social media, transparency has never been easier and secrecy has never been harder. Every person with a smartphone is a potential private investigator, ready to write a negative Yelp review or dig up dirt on companies if given a reason to. Smartphones are megaphones for consumers everywhere, and brands can get away with far less as a result. 

The next question becomes what brands and marketers everywhere can actually do to avoid creating a cringey ad. Here are a few places to start.

1. Just be yourself.

As corny and simple as this sounds, this principle can be an absolute game changer for your brand if you choose to apply it. When it comes to average consumers, particularly millennials, they just want to know the truth behind a brand. By lifting the veil and being authentic to your values and core beliefs, trust will naturally be built between your company and customers.

A home-run example of how letting it all hang can work wonders is Motel 6’s hilarious radio ad that targeted millennials. If you’re unfamiliar with the award-winning ad, the commercial sarcastically appeals to millennials because the narrator (an elderly man) noticed all the other brands were doing it. Throughout the spot, the narrator ironically uses phrases like, “lit”, “sus”, and “woke” to poke fun at how inauthentic and forced it is when other brands try to relate to millennials.

This is where Gillette and Pepsi, in particular messed things up. By being so over the top with their socially conscious campaigns, it was clear the brands were only creating the ads for their own self gain as opposed to genuinely supporting the causes themselves. 

2. Keep a close pulse on internet and popular culture.

I’ll never understand how many eye-rolls I get when I tell my readers how important pop culture knowledge is to being a kick ass marketer. Everything in marketing comes down to people and their behavior – and nothing is more indicative of what people are actually up to and interested in than internet culture.

To begin, start following popular meme accounts on Instagram like Daquan, Beige Cardigan and Barstool Sports. Instagram moves at the speed of culture, and when something goes viral across the internet world, accounts like these will be the first to notify the masses.

Additionally, take a few minutes per day to see what’s trending on Twitter. Scroll through and read what the majority of users are saying about the topic to get a general idea of what the public sentiment is around it. YouTube channels like The Breakfast Club are also terrific outlets for keeping a pulse on pop culture. 

3. Run your ideas by people outside your inner circle.

Before going all in and investing your resources into a campaign, it would be wise to run the idea by people outside your company’s “inner circle” or top decision makers to see if it resonates the way you’re hoping it will. Oftentimes, bad ideas are born and bred in the boardroom. Echo chambers exist inside companies just like they do on Facebook.

In fact, I can almost guarantee that if Gillette, Pepsi or H&M would’ve taken 2 extra minutes to run their ad ideas by one of their millennial entry level employees or their Gen Z interns, the concepts would’ve died then and there. 

In 2019, put your pride aside and invest time into scrolling through social media and becoming an aficionado with pop culture. The more you know what the public is actually saying and thinking, the more you’ll become aware of what the characteristics are for effective advertising in this day and age. Best of luck.