August 21, 2020
For the longest time, advertising agencies have been obsessed with perfection. It is a cultural reality that extends outside of business; from childhood, authority figures train us to aspire for a 100 out of 100 score, a flawlessly executed dance routine, and other similar feats.
Ads are full of lean models with symmetrical features, and brands always put their company in the best light. Balance and symmetry are also the default for everything from print ads to commercials. Today, though, this is changing, and marketers are trying to keep up.
Why the shift away from perfection?
A significant driver of marketing is relevance, and businesses today must cope with the fact that they are in an attention economy. There is pressure on brands these days to connect in a meaningful way with audiences since they have a larger pool of choices.
People’s collective skepticism further complicates this situation. Audiences are more sophisticated today, and they want the pure, unvarnished truth about the products they consume.
In many cases, presenting the less-than-ideal is more intriguing and desirable for people than showing them a stylized version of a brand. This preference for imperfection is nothing new; in fact, you can observe this in “wabi-sabi,” which is part of traditional Japanese aesthetics.
What is wabi-sabi?
A central tenet of wabi-sabi is that imperfection is naturally beautiful. People who adhere to this philosophy not only accept flaws; they highlight these things as features. It sounds risky to show chinks in your armor or admit that you or your business do not have all the answers. For many people, it goes against their training.
Ultimately, though, imperfections are a subtle message that the business is primarily concerned with transparency, and showing itself honestly. This clarity will lead to far more interest than perfect collateral will.
How to incorporate wabi-sabi in marketing
Marketers can lean into the idea of imperfection without promoting inferiority. Unilever has been successful in doing this with video commercials for Dove, their leading personal care brand. They have had two campaigns about flawed beauty. The first is Dove Evolution , which challenged popular notions about what makes a person beautiful. The second, Dove Beauty sketches , concretizes the ideas in the first video.
Another example is Diesel, with its Go With The Flaw campaign. The clothing company’s two-minute ad has models with features that do not typically grace fashion shoots. A woman with a unibrow, one with braces, one with crossed eyes, and yet another with big ears. Diesel’s models have scars and flaws, and it is okay because “flawless is forgettable.”
A brand must embrace imperfection to cut through today’s distorted, Photoshopped reality. Businesses are more likely to stand out when they do not aspire for the extremely polished look of many brands today.
When brands celebrate their differences, they make themselves more attractive to audiences. People are attracted to things that are like them or with which they identify. These days, consumers are wary of the perfect, airbrushed look that ads have, and they prefer authenticity.
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