Striking a Balance to Deliver Authentic Ad Experiences

Hadley Stork

“Be authentic.” As marketers, we hear this all the time, but it can feel like a vague request. Authenticity requires two seemingly different needs: personalizing unique audience experiences and staying true to your brand—​​but how can advertisers balance these into one strategy?

To understand this better, we did some research on language and dialect creative decisions, since they strike a good balance of audience and brand needs. Based on our findings, we believe that marketers should consider a two-fold approach when it comes to authenticity: 

1. Understand what speaks to your audience
A Language Test

The first (and most important consideration) for authenticity is understanding what speaks to your audience. Language decisions are often at the forefront of these discussions and can tell us a lot about audience’s needs. And we weren’t the only ones trying to understand this! KFC US, a fried chicken restaurant with over 24,000 locations worldwide, was interested in learning what language resonates with an audience that speaks both English and Spanish. 

We launched an experiment to test whether English, Spanish, or Bilingual* creative would be most effective. With over 17,000 listener survey responses from both exposed and control audiences, the results were clear: Spanish and English both outperformed the Bilingual creative, driving higher recall at a statistically significant level.

KFC English Version
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KFC Spanish Version
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KFC Bilingual Version
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These results suggest that even though the audience may be bilingual in both languages, creative with a single language is actually more impactful in this context. This insight makes sense to Nidia Serrano, Senior Director of Sales Marketing at SXM Media and expert in multicultural marketing.

“Bilingualism is a very individual experience,” she says. “How people weave English and Spanish into a conversation depends on context, emotion, and the words they can recall at any given moment. Native English speakers will lean into words native Spanish speakers won’t, and vice versa. It’s hard for an advertising message to apply this level of nuance and do so authentically.”

Creative Insight: Individual experiences within your audience is crucial to keep in mind when deciding on a creative strategy. In the language test, this surfaced as single languages resonating most, but this can play out in other creative decisions, too. It’s important to test and learn what makes the most sense for the individuals in your audience.

2. Understand what corresponds to your brand’s unique identity 
A Dialect Test

On the other side of the authenticity coin is a brand’s unique identity. Essentially, is your brand also being authentic to itself? Language variations, again, are a great way to measure the impact here.

We previously ran studies testing

different dialects in voiceovers. In one version, we tested Southern and non-Southern dialects on products traditionally associated with the South and products not traditionally associated with the South. Our goal was to understand whether brand identity or dialect mattered more to audiences in this context.

Turns out, there was a clear preference for brand identity. When the brand or product itself was Southern, both people in the South and the general market preferred the Southern dialect. But when the brand was not Southern, everyone preferred the non-Southern dialect. This tells us that brand identity is also a very important consideration in crafting an authentic strategy. 

Creative Insight: Identity drives authenticity. Authentic creative choices require looking at what makes sense for your individual audience members as well as your brand identity. And it’s important to consider how that decision will sound coming from your brand.

Key Takeaways

  • Authentic marketing requires a two-pronged approach. Be sure to understand what makes sense for the individuals in your audience AND for your brand identity.

  • Test often. Learn what makes the most sense for your brand and keep track of changing trends by testing and learning regularly.

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to authenticity. Many creative decisions require being authentic, so make sure to find the unique balance of authenticity for all of them.

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* Bilingual = copy in both English and Spanish