How brands battle for creativity and authenticity

Brand backlash is nothing new: 2017 has seen its share of marketing missteps from big brands trying to appeal to millennials. When brands abruptly insert themselves into conversations about issues important to young people, thoughtlessly promoting products in inappropriate situations, consumers clap back.

What these incidents show us is that some brands have a ways to go in harnessing creativity and authenticity to make their marketing both stand out and ring true. In fact, it’s often the intersection of creativity and authenticity where brands falter.

Leading CEOs, CMOs, rising stars and tastemakers will talk about this existential battle at WORLDZ, the summit covering leadership, strategies and tactics to design a new global culture. Here’s a sneak peek of one of the many important conversations we’ll be having at the summit.


“It’s very difficult to be creative if you are constrained by rules,” National Geographic photojournalist Charlie Hamilton James said in an interview. He has been working on the creative side of wildlife conservation and awareness since the age of 16.

Too often, he said, he has seen companies use creatives as commodities to make more money. “But then what is the ‘power of creativity’?” Hamilton James said.

Creativity can’t be turned on and off like a tap, getting unique ideas right when you want them. Ask any person working in design, music and other creative industries to come up with a groundbreaking idea in an hour, and they’ll tell you it just doesn’t work like that.

“The creative people who power [our creative] ideas aren’t as constrained by the practicalities of traditional business conventions,” Mike Tunnicliffe, executive vice president and head of brand partnerships of Universal Music Group, said of his team’s approach to working with creative voices. “Without these walls in mind, they often develop concepts and solutions that would otherwise never see the light of day, and we can then use smart business strategy to bring them to life.”

In many ways, it’s up to the brands themselves to recognize that they can’t take business ideas and just “make them creative.” Rather, they should allow the creativity to happen in its own time and ways, then strategize around it. This approach doesn’t just allow creatives to actually be creative; it also amplifies authenticity for brands.

It could be as simple as honest communication about your product, which is the most important criterion for company behavior for 91% of consumers. It could also be ingrained social impact in your business plan (if you joined the ranks of B Corps) or fighting for cause-related battles simply with the power of your company’s dollars and platform.

“What we know from our own research among millennials is that those brands that use their power to drive a social- [or] cause-related agenda tend to resonate really well,” Tunnicliffe said. That group, which is also the largest target consumer demographic, also ranks trustworthiness and authenticity as two of the top five attributes of brand marketing demanded by millennials, according to Mindshare North America and Cohn & Wolfe.

The bottom line: A company that is honest and has identifiable values in its daily work doesn’t only do good — it does well. To achieve this, identifying and then sticking to a brand’s core values is imperative. That trickles down to the talent they use, as well.

Take influencer marketing: 75% of marketers say they use influencer marketing for their brands, but it can be risky. As AdWeek noted, an influencer going rogue against the brand or doing something to lose favor with their audience means a massive hit to the brand image.

Allowing talent, like influencers, to represent a brand in ways both unique to their creative style and to who they are as people is the way to go.

“The most successful photographers I know are all masters of breaking rules, creating their own style — it’s something that not only persists in their images, but also in them as people,” James said.

The solution? Find your brand’s values in the talent and the work they do, and you have a perfect partnership.

“Ultimately it’s our job to find brands and artists who are authentically aligned,” Tunnicliffe said.