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Authenticity is the new cool: Nothing about us, without us

Imagine growing up playing video games with your brother, until one day that social activity you loved was impossible because of injuries you sustained causing permanent disability. That is what happened to twin brothers that the Xbox team learned first-hand experience from. The gaming controller that one brother once was very adept at using became a mismatch to his needs. The good news is that Xbox solved that mismatch with the Adaptive Controller and with a feature called Co-pilot. The controller is fully customisable for anyone’s ability — making gaming a match for Corey again so he could play with his twin brother Zachary. And Co-pilot enables two people, using two separate controllers to play along together on a single player game. This inclusive innovation was born from deliberate curiosity for people with disabilities that gave simple and valuable insights of the human experience, a genuine perspective of their authentic gaming process. What the Xbox team realised from additional direct feedback from the disability community in gaming was that increased sophistication of the game controllers required motor skills that left many with limited mobility very frustrated. As a result, the Xbox Adaptive Controller was developed with gamers, not just for them.

Authenticity and genuineness are the most important brand attributes to build trust

The meaning of “nothing about us, without us” is simple yet powerful. If you’re designing for people with disabilities, why not try designing with people who have disabilities? This is one way to design for authenticity in advertising and in any area of business. If you’re designing an ad campaign for women who telecommute in a particular region of the world, why not design the campaign with women who telecommute from that region of the world? As marketers, we can source authentic and genuine feedback on creative, product features, ad copy, and general customer preferences, to land the message with accuracy, considering cultural, regional, and human diversity. The same principle applies to a small business serving a local community. “Nothing about us, without us” is one powerful way to gain customer empathy and find authentic brand expression in advertising. For example, within our Marketing with Purpose Playbook you’ll find how to get started in producing more accessible marketing and customer experiences, which ultimately drives brand trust. With 85% of people saying they will only consider a brand if they trust it, learning how to build brand trust is paramount to a successful business.

The feelings of inclusion in advertising create authentic connection points

Four friends, two women and two men, taking a selfie photo with trees in the background.  

Another way to create authenticity in advertising is to understand the emotional appeal your advertising message can convey. Our Psychology of Inclusion and the Effects in Advertising study discovered that inclusive advertising done authentically feels like connection and family, and it produces two main feelings of joy and trust.

The feelings of inclusion in advertising create connection and drive trust. Because inclusive advertising can conjure feelings of joy and trust, look for brand connection points in products or features that can create one or more of the feelings of inclusion identified in our study: acceptance, clarity, confidence, relief, certainty, contentment, celebration, zest, relaxation, and safety. If you can find a genuine and authentic way that your product creates any one of these feelings, this can convey inclusion, which (again, see the pattern here?) builds trust and love and leads to loyalty. This inclusive product marketing approach facilitates connection with people, making them feel like part of a family — your brand’s family.

Shared values create value for the brand and customer

Another strategy that can help create a more authentic and genuine brand experience is focusing on what your brand purpose is in the world. You’ll attract people that hold the same values and drive the ultimate brand experience that leads to a more loyal relationship and willingness to recommend. The point is to be genuine and authentic; not to be everything to everyone, but to be true to your brand mission and values. First, start by reviewing your brand values and ensuring that how you’re marketing externally is also true internally. Both brands and people have choices. Brands have the choice as to how they’ll do business (inside and out), and people have the choice to support brands or not based on those demonstrated values. Sometimes, people choose a brand with dedication, love, and loyalty when they share values. Sometimes, people choose to boycott or stop buying from a brand with an equal amplitude of passion because the brand does not represent their values. 48% of people stopped purchasing from a brand that did not represent their values while 76% bought a product to support issues supported by a brand. Ensure your brand mission is expressed throughout how you do business, including your advertising — because how you do business in today’s world is your marketing, and that is authenticity by design.

67% of Gen Z agree that “being true to their values and beliefs makes a person cool,” and they feel the same way about brands

There are multiple ways create authenticity is to explore the intersection of consumer values with your brand’s values and find the commonalities. There, you’ll discover genuine ways for your brand to connect with people who hold the same values to create shared meaning. There’s an enormous amount of consumer value trend insights in our Marketing with Purpose Playbook for you to consider. We outline values held across generations, both across the internet and on the Microsoft Advertising Network. We also outline which audiences value sustainable products and are willing to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products on the Microsoft Advertising Network:

  • Black and African Americans are 93% more likely to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products
  • LGBTQI+ are 41% more likely to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products
  • LatinX are 51% more likely to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products
  • Veterans are 225% more likely to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products
 
Researchers conduct near-shore sampling of fish populations in a Washington estuary.

Researchers conduct near-shore sampling of fish populations in a Washington estuary.

 

The meaning of authenticity to customers differ by industry. In Travel, authenticity is about “experiences.” People want travel brands to go above and beyond, providing a personalised experience. They want the brand to understand and recognise how important they are as a person. In Retail, authenticity is about “value.” It comes down to providing a strong value exchange — do consumers believe the perceived value of the goods equal to the price? Consumers want appropriate quality for the price they paid. In Financial Services, it’s about a “strong customer experience.” Providing peace of mind, hassle-free experiences, and exceptional customer service help build an authentic brand in this vertical. In Autos, it’s about “accountability.” Delivering on promises made in your advertising, along with proactive problem solving, are key.

72% of people are more likely to support a brand with authentic advertising

Shared values expressed in ad copy can create a connection point and drive an authentic brand experience. Consider highlighting your products and initiatives if they have components that genuinely address climate change. By doing so, you make people feel seen and understood by your brand; that your brand is “for someone like me.” Transparency in your company’s initiatives in solving any environmental or social problems, regardless of where you are on the journey, is important to customer support. People will buy from brands that stand for something larger than just their products when they are aligned to their values. 88% of consumers want brands to step up on sustainable lifestyles and help them improve their environmental and social footprint in daily life. It’s more than the claims you make, it’s consistent actions across media channels and customer touchpoints over time. Your success will be measured by how people embrace and advocate for your brand because they feel like you are a trusted friend.

Another way to produce authentic advertising is to have accuracy in representation of real-world human diversity. Avoid tropes and stereotypes of any group of people and seek to feature real customers with unique attributes within a demographic. No one demographic is a monolith and showcasing genuine diversity within an audience reflects the real-world demographics. Nearly two-thirds of Black adults and more than half of Hispanic adults reported their race and or ethnicity is stereotyped in advertising. However, advertising is becoming more diverse overtime, with 70% of U.S. adults saying ads today are more diverse than they were just three years ago. No matter the gender or ethnicity, when someone is represented in advertising, they are more trusting of that brand: 61% of women, 59% of men, 67% of Ethnic Minorities, and 51% of Caucasians agree. This is another area of advertising where marketers can apply the “nothing about us, without us” principle, to creative assets and campaign materials that are developed with input from your customers and employees that represent the demographic with whom your ads are trying to connect.

This is all to say, authentic advertising is built upon an inclusive customer experience end to end

A family of four connecting with relatives on a tablet computer video call. 

Authenticity is achieved through applying an inclusive lens across all customer touchpoints with multi-channel exposure: search, display, native, social, video, corporate communications, websites, customer service and events. Brands who do not engage in an inclusive approach to business and advertising now will be forced to play catch-up in the future with those brands who are already investing. The brands who are already investing will earn the association that comes with inclusive advertising, like “leader,” “genuine,” and “trustworthy,” which will drive an increase in likelihood to recommend their brands. Investing now, despite what might appear to be minimal gains with the general population (gen pop), will likely accelerate gains over time as gen pop becomes more “inclusive-centric” with the aging of today’s younger generations, as well as the demand for truth in advertising by all. The message is loud and clear for advertisers: “Nothing about us, without us” is authenticity by design, and that is cool.

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