It’s Only Human: When Brands Are People and People Are Brands

Axe body spray. You’d recognize it, even if you’ve never used it. The black packaging with silver typography is unmistakable: It’s bold, brash, and aggressive. When Axe entered the market, the dudes who wore it were supposed to be irresistible to ladies. The reinforcement of messaging that inspired confidence in men, was the brand’s bread and butter (like pretty much every other fragrance line out there).

Well, times have changed. What was once a one-way conversation between brands and consumers is now a dialogue. In this case we are talking about brand messaging that’s gone away from cues to “getting the girl,” has evolved to finding what’s really unique about you. A year ago, the Axe brand launched “Find your Magic Initiative,” a campaign that encouraged men to define masculinity for themselves. “Is It Okay,” Axe’s recent work, takes the conversation one step farther. It asks a range of questions from, “Is it okay to be skinny?” to “Is it okay for guys to experiment with other guys?” It’s safe to say that when it comes to Axe and its fans, the lines of communication are wide open. Just check out the Axe Instagram feed; it’s definitely more fan than brand.

This new intimacy is everywhere. We all have something to say, and we’re all saying it. We’re all creating original content, curating our brand stories and refining our public personas. The way we feel about our favorite brands is kind of like the way we feel about our friends. We don’t like being blasted with sales and product information. It’s annoying. It’s also annoying when a friend is a little too pushy with their relationship advice. What’s interesting is that we experience both of those things in the same way. It’s a phenomenon that plays a large role in our study/film, The Culture of Proximity 

Twenty years ago, would we have ever known or even cared about a company’s product sourcing? Nope. Purchasing decisions used to be made pretty simply: we wanted the best product for the best price. These days, 32% of people believe that brands are just as trustworthy as people. So, we want brands to talk to us in certain ways. We want to know where they’re located and where they get their materials and how they treat their employees. We like Everlane’s policy of radical transparency. They only work with factories that have integrity and don’t treat their employees like sh*t. We like that Tom’s takes a portion of every sale and gives it to a person in need. We can’t get enough of the Honest Company’s inspirational quotes. Why? We relate to them, and they make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. And so a bond is formed.

It’s all about being real, or at least seeming real. Friends, family and co-workers are held to the same standard as celebrities and influencers. We judge them and compete with them. We filter our vacation shots, spend the first 10 minutes of a meal photographing what’s on the plate, and start Instagram feeds for our kids and pets. If someone is posting too much or trying too hard, we stop liking their photos and might even unfollow them. Don’t tell us how interesting your life is; make it look interesting, and be sure to do it in a way that feels authentic. We don’t want the hard sell; we want the sell that’s hidden in entertainment and empathy. In a world where brands are people and people are brands, we want everybody and everything to feel, well, human, even if they’re not


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