Videos & Values: Searching For “Authenticity”

by Adam Katz
Searching For Authenticity

In January, LAI Video explored how companies are aligning their brands with social causes through video. Five months later, it’s clear that this marketing tactic is only picking up steam. With brands continuing to release commercials that ignite social change, new evidence is mounting about the techniques that they are using to connect with consumersand how consumers are responding. And looking at consumers’ reactions, it’s clear that “authenticity"undoubtedly an elusive concept – is key.

Using recent ads from Gillette, Burger King, and Netflix, LAI Video analyzes the role of authenticity in commercials that tackle social issues.

Gillette | Case Study Approach


In May, Gillette released its “First Shave, The story of Samson” commercial, which captures the moment when Samson Bonkeabantu Browna transgender man from Torontoshaves for the first time. While shaving, Samson is encouraged by his supportive father, whose love for his son makes the moment all the more powerful. Gillette’s commercial serves as a follow-up to others that address ideas about gender and masculinity, including the brand’s highly discussed “We Believe” ad.

Presenting a real-life anecdote that shares a moving social message, Gillette’s commercial follows a “case study” approach to social issue advertising. And because it ventures into Samson’s home and documents his lived experiences, the ad also embraces a “day-in-the-life” documentary technique.

Gillette’s commercialwhich received widespread praisedemonstrates the prospective benefits of using a case study approach for social issue advertising. As Meera Estrada, a Toronto-based cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D!, notes, “I think part of the overall positive feedback to this ad is the very authentic approach in its story-telling. It features a trans man describing his journey in his own words.” Exercising branding restraint as it spotlights Samson’s story, Gillette’s commercial feels authentic.

Brands using a case study approach cannot guarantee that their commercials will resonate with viewers, however. One well-known example is the launch of Proactiv’s campaign featuring Kendall Jenner as a spokesperson. Before Proactiv aired the campaign’s first commercial, Kris Jenner lauded her daughter on Instagram for sharing her “most raw story,” which many considered to be misleading. Ancestry.com’s use of promotional case studies has also been the subject of controversy. While its commercials have featured real users of its DNA tests, some feel that they have shared a misguided message the meaning of genetic results.

Burger King – Cinematic Approach

A few weeks before Gillette’s “First Shave” premiered, Burger King aired a slightly longer and certainly more theatrical commercial that addresses the topic of mental health. Titled #FeelYourWay, Burger King’s featurette resembles others that deliver a short, filmic experience. Tying together scripting, actors, and music, the commercial serves as an anthem that declares it’s okay to not always feel happy – and that touts the company’s “real meals” launch and support for Mental Health America.

Reactions to Burger King’s ad have been mostly favorable. While some have criticized it for being insensitive, others have commended it for being relatable and for raising awareness about mental health. From an appraisal of about 2,500 earned media stories, about 80% of the coverage has been positive.

It’s perhaps the boldness of Burger King’s commercial that makes it a step in the right direction. As AdWeek explains,

"The campaign is a bold move, to be sure. In an age when mental illness is still so stigmatized, many brands simply shy away from discussing the topic altogether… Discussions on mental illness certainly don’t end here, but Burger King is at least starting a conversation.”

Greg Matusky, speaking to Campaign US, adds, "Sometimes, to open up conversation, you need to be on the edge and do something that some people might find controversial, because it you don’t, it just feels like another [financial] contribution or partnership." 

However, not all commercials that use cinematic techniques to tackle social issues do so effectively. Ancestry.com noted that it is “committed to telling important stories from history,” but its recent commercial missed the mark. Pepsi’s 2017 commercial featuring Kendall Jenner also comes to mind, which many felt trivialized protests for racial equality. 

Netflix “Make Room” | Spokesperson Approach

Launched in February, Netflix’s “Make Room” addresses the importance of diversity in the entertainment industry. The commercial stars “Orange Is the New Black” actress Uzo Aduba, who invites viewers to see how Netflix is committed to representing a diverse breadth of voices and stories.

What makes this commercial particularly effective is its use of a spokesperson in combination with case study and cinematic tactics. Narrating the commercialand a Netflix-series star herselfAduba introduces viewers to real examples of the company’s programming, showing how Netflix is “actually fulfilling promises of inclusion.” And through powerful cinematic techniques, including exceptional scripting, a filmic narrative address, and an evocative musical score, she is able to reveal each of them.

While Netflix’s commercial has been met with applause, not all commercials that star a spokesperson are universally lauded. Some have criticized Proactiv’s campaign with Kendall Jenner because they hadn’t seen her post about the brand regularly. Others have taken issue with it because they attribute Jenner’s clear skin to her seeing a health care professional rather than her using Proactiv.

With each commercial following a distinct approach, perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for producing commercials that tackle social issues authentically. By analyzing how consumers currently perceive a brand and its values, companies can take an important first step in determining the best way to share a social message. With consumers embracing a variety of beliefs toward contemporary social issues, the positions that companies champion should be truthful to the actual values they hold.

Share Your Message Authentically

Are you considering how to authentically align with your customers’ values? Do you need help sharing a profound social message or story in a way that bolsters your brand?

Through the strategies described above and many more, LAI Video regularly produces videos that create a powerful and lasting impact. Our team is always discovering new and innovative ways to bring our clients’ creative visions to life through powerful video-driven campaigns. Let us help identify your industry’s hidden stories, curate cohesive messaging, and deliver engaging videos to create deeper connections with your audience, build greater brand awareness, and broaden your campaign’s reach and exposure.

If you're looking to create compelling videos to align with your customers’ values, please contact our team to get started today!

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