Brands: Be Authentic. Drop the Buzzwords.

April 20, 2016

Beyond the excitement surrounding virtual reality and advancements in artificial intelligence, the steadiest conversation I heard at SXSW involved one thing: authenticity. From choosing politicians to buying into corporate missions, consumers are finely-tuning their bogus indicators.

Every session I attended addressed authenticity in some fashion, but none did so as wholeheartedly as the bluntly titled How To Stop Speaking in Bull$#!*. Mediated by COO of VICE Media, Alyssa Mastromonaco, the panel included Obama’s former Director of Speechwriting, Jon Favreau, The Incite Agency’s Chief Digital Officer, Jon Jones and New York Times and Vanity Fair contributor Nell Scovell.

The discussion started with an agreed upon premise: consumer faith in institutions continues to decline. And as that happens, we’re growing increasingly fed up with manipulative, over-calculated language.

Whether we admit it or not, we all fall victim to over-used jargon. Have you talked about leveraging your rockstar team member to help you ideate the next Uber for X lately? And how many of these generic brand claims have you made?

It may be cringe-inducing, but we can do better! Many times, we’re brought down this path by what the panel dubbed “The Curse of Knowledge”—assuming everyone else knows what we do. Start by asking yourself, would someone who doesn’t do what I do understand what I’m saying? Remember: BS can be either overly complicated or overly simple.

Favreau argued that we use jargon and buzzwords as a crutch because we’re too cautious and risk averse. These common phrases have worked so many times in the past, which makes them feel safe. In reality, however, they’re clichéd and often disingenuous.

But what happens when we stop operating so cautiously and allow our brands to be truly authentic? Powerful, compelling ads like Nike’s Better For It campaign. The campaign was created in response to Nike’s tough and aspirational Risk Everything campaign, which was very effective with male consumers. Women, however, responded poorly to the campaign, finding it alienating, discouraging and not at all relatable.

Better For It was incredibly successful because it honored the thoughts that so many women have as we’re working out—it usually sucks and we hate doing it. I watched that ad with a group of women in our office and each of us chimed in with “totally been there” and “so true!” One coworker even commented that the ad was “definitely written by a woman—she just gets it.”

It’s honest and completely authentic. By listening closely to its customer base, Nike was able to connect with women on a deeper level that’s both true to their audience as well as their brand. It was risky, but it definitely paid off.


Tips for Communicating Authentically 

How do you know if you’re veering into bull$#!* territory? Watch out for these common triggers:

  • It worked before, how do we repurpose it again?
  • Treating your audience like they’re stupid. Never start by trying to fool or take advantage of someone.
  • Do you have another concept in the back of you mind but you’re afraid to go for it? Maybe you should.

 Tips for communicating authentically as a brand:

  • Be honest and tell the truth. Don’t try to make claims that you can’t actually back up.
  • Would you say it in a bar? Think about how your audience actually talks when they’re hanging out. Hint: They’re probably not talking about synergy.
  • Drop the fluff. Have purpose and something real to say.
  • Take risks.


What is one buzzword or piece of jargon that really makes you cringe when you hear it?


Jones Dairy Farm sausages

Breakfast Better

Breakfast Better

A website overhaul and updated branding connected this all-natural brand to a new audience.

A website overhaul and updated branding connected this all-natural brand to a new audience.

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