The unstoppable power of authenticity

What’s happening

To younger generations, “authenticity” represents more than just a trendy term; it embodies a lifestyle centred on trustworthiness and sincerity. A recent EY study revealed that an overwhelming majority of Gen Z participants ranked authenticity above all other personal values examined, even surpassing wealth and fame.

The remarkable ascent of TikTok serves as solid evidence of this shift materialising in everyday life. As a platform that uniquely enables individuals to convey their true selves, TikTok exemplifies the growing demand for genuine self-expression.

But why is this happening and what are the dynamics behind it?

Societal factors: Craving connection and authenticity

In a world where people are constantly bombarded with glossy advertising, generic content and fake news, many are seeking out what feels real and genuine. The rise of mental health awareness and the focus on self-acceptance have accelerated this trend. The change in values means that people want to hear about the reality of people’s lives, rather than a polished, idealised version.

Economic factors: A response to uncertainty

Amidst economic uncertainty, increasing income inequality and a more competitive job market, many people feel disillusioned with the narrative of limitless possibilities and success. As a result, they are drawn to narratives that reflect the challenges and realities they face.

Cultural factors: Pushing boundaries and challenging established norms

Finally, the cultural dynamics at play in today’s world are driving the trend towards social realism and authenticity. Younger generations are more likely to challenge established norms, question authority, and push for change. They gravitate towards content that reflects these values, highlighting the struggles of marginalised groups and addressing issues of social justice and equality.


Why should I pay attention to this?

The trend towards social realism and authenticity reflects not just the evolving values and priorities of the younger generation, they also are a key factor in buying decisions. As Edelman’s Brand Purpose team states: “Authenticity is the biggest currency in brand impact.” 

According to a study from Stackla: “88% of consumers stated that authenticity is a major deciding factor when it comes to choosing a brand to support”.

Research commissioned by TikTok found that “56% of users and 67% of creators feel closer to brands they see on TikTok when they publish human, unpolished content.”

By acknowledging the struggles and complexities of life, brands can create a sense of connection and understanding, resonating with those who seek genuine experiences in a world that often feels overwhelming and superficial. Providing a diverse and honest representation of the human experience across all forms of media.

But watch out: For global brands, shallow efforts to act ‘authentic’ and ‘culturally true’ won’t cut it. Pros at sniffing out the fake from the genuine, younger generations won’t hesitate to call them out if they aren’t keeping it real by adding substance. Either through commitment to relevant local causes or by masterfully embedding cultural codes and real stories into their creative advertising.


What can I do about it?

We don’t imply that all brand stories must revolve around the hardships and challenges of contemporary life. There is ample space for lightheartedness, aspirational stories and comedy. Research shows that that humorous content is among the most-shared categories at present. 

However, as social media feeds increasingly portray a realistic view of the world, brands should adopt a strategy that has the ability to credibly and authentically tap into social realism when required.

Global brands face the added complexity of catering to culturally diverse audiences across markets or regions with distinct socio-economic disparities, as well as differing cultural and societal norms. Navigating areas such as inclusivity, gender norms, and facilitating open discussions on potentially politically sensitive topics necessitates careful consideration. 

Nevertheless, this challenge should not dissuade global brands from wholeheartedly embracing authenticity. Below are some concrete actions that global brands should take:

  • Embrace local culture: Don’t be a tourist. Instead strive off the beaten path and welcome stories that really matter to local people. Leverage local cultural moments and movements of meaning. Use cultural insight for discovery. 
  • Stimulate bold ideation: Don’t stifle creativity with generic creative briefs that turn the creative process into a box ticking exercise. Creatives are best when they can tap into raw local insight, polarising topics and real problems that need solving.
  • Leverage storytelling media: Don’t just rely on a global hero ad. Underpin your global key message with local sub-stories that feature real life in the market. Even lower production value content (e.g. on social) can do wonders to add substance and credibility.
  • Elevate diverse voices: Featuring a wide range of people from different backgrounds that match local socio-demographics. 
  • Find the right tone: Different markets with different cultures react differently to potentially polarising creative narratives. Adapt your tone and message to reflect what’s right locally (while staying true to the message).
  • Adapt look & feel: Creative that includes known local features and aspects of daily life feel closer, hence more genuine.
  • Validate: Even with the best intentions and solid cultural/consumer insight things can go wrong along the process. Check your creative through local cultural experts against red flags and for authentic local fit. 


Who is doing it well?

Burger King – “Non-Artificial Mexico”

The Burger King “Non-Artificial Mexico” ad campaign is a fantastic example of using real-life stories because it shows ordinary people in their daily lives. This campaign aimed to promote Burger King’s Whopper burger, made without artificial ingredients or preservatives, in Mexico.

The ads displayed black-and-white pictures of everyday Mexicans enjoying Burger King’s burgers and fries, along with the phrase “Real tastes better” or “Lo real sabe mejor” in Spanish. These ads highlighted the brand’s focus on keeping their food as real and authentic as possible.

They featured people from all walks of life, showing the brand’s love for the country and its connection to the local people. It showed how Burger King’s commitment to authenticity could be adapted for different cultures worldwide, in this case Mexico.

As a result of this campaign, Burger King achieved 95% brand awareness, 98% positive feedback, and a 36.7% increase in sales.

Brands must get close to culture and use local insight to understand what really moves people and adapt their creative to meet cultural codes and local styles that feel authentic.

Click here to get in touch with our localisation experts if you’re looking to increase the authenticity of your next global campaign.


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