Reality Branding Are You Taking Advantage Of The 40 Year Social Pendulum?

I watched Roy Williams in a quite literally amazing presentation about society's 40-year Pendulum recently. His presentation was a delightful hidden bonus in the agenda from the Call to Action seminar hosted by Bryan and Jeff Eisenberg at the Wizard of Ads Academy 1 in Buda, Texas.

Roy´s presentation explained a phenomenon that happens every 40 years where folks´ attitudes gradually shift over time in an opposite direction to that of the previous generation. He finished by predicting that in the next 2-3 years we´re going to see radical shifts in the way people buy and what they are influenced by. I am labeling this shift for the purposes of this article Reality Branding.

The shift starts with the arts

Roy described how music and art is the first indication that ´times they are a changing´. Typically music precedes this social shift before the whole idea goes mainstream. If you think about it, looking at music and the arts is a reasonable indicator of what people think. I´m not talking about the reaction to one hit wonders, but the general trends. Why does everyone suddenly get the same kind of groove, coast to coast, continent to continent?

I remember reading a CaveChat (bulletin board) thread from 5000BC 2 a few months back where one post compared Eminem to Elvis. I thought it was a strange comparison at the time because it was not explained in the context Roy described. I now understand that it wasn't that these icons were comparable as artists; it was that they are comparable in the shift they reflected in the "mainstream" in society.

Take Elvis´

Since the late 50's we've had rock and roll in one form or another and it all started in 1957 with Elvis Presley curling his lip and shaking his knees in a fashion that made the young ladies of the time pass out with excitement.

Or did it? Rock and roll has its roots well before Elvis as I´m sure all the musical historians will tell you, however when Elvis and his iconic charm came along the music went mainstream and that is the point. For the next 40 years music was in one form or another, an iteration, imitation, categorization, blend or copy of a rock and roll based rhythm.

So what about Eminem?

Eminem and probably a few others brought hip hop to the masses. In 1997 (40 years exactly from 57 when Elvis emerged on the scene) the hip hop generation was becoming very popular. Eminem was one of the emerging talents of the time, but the white guy in a predominantly black musical genre signaled the approach of the mainstream.

It reads like a script when you compare how Elvis before him was preceded by less famous Rock and Roll artists that were the true pioneers. Eminem and Elvis can be compared because they hit the scene around the time that people were ready for it and made history. Ever heard the saying ´there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come?´3 Eminems brash, hard hitting, realistic and edgy approach has the latest generation of young ladies screaming "That shit is bumping" 4 but they wouldn´t pass out because it isn´t cool.

And it´s ´what´s cool´ that´s the point isn´t it?

What do hip hop artists sing about? Trouble on the streets, too many guns, poverty, sex, saving the world, where is the love - The Black Eyed Peas ´ and their rap about social conscience?

In addition other bands which aren't hip hop are of a similar vein in their lyrical content. Think Coldplay from the UK and their lyrics in Lights out.... "Come out upon my seas, curse missed opportunities (am I) A part of the cure, or am I part of the disease".

Am I a part of the cure or a part of the disease??

Right now, it´s cool to be talking about real problems people have or reflecting on the reality surrounding them. Fantasy is out of the window, dreaming is for hippies, Can you imagine Coke releasing ´I´d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony´ without causing an entire generation to throw up? In 1971 people actually sang along!

Cool right now is all about reality and social conscience, where as for the last 40 years we've gone from individual rebellion (rock and roll), to free love (individual dreaming), to rebellion (punk rock), to material girl (the individual success story) to free your mind (90´s acid rock).

Interestingly if you take Madonna as a survivor of this social pendulum notice how her style and lyrics have changed? She started off as rebellious material girl, all vogue and power icon but now has shifted to a real mum with a social conscience (ray of light album).

Social conscience and getting things done

We´re switching from an idealistic society where it is Ok to dream, to a social society where getting things done is more important. The shift in society will have profound effects on branding and advertising over the next 20 years at least.

You´re now in a generation that doesn't respect individual achievements, rebellion or going it alone, mocks hype and doesn't think James Bond is da man!

You're now in a generation where people are tired of hype, tired of dreams and want to work together to get things done. Your peers want to do things that make the world a better place to live in rather than just dream about it. They recognize the problems around them and seek solutions to make things happen.

Stars today wear ordinary clothes; remember Elvis on stage in his glittery white suits? Now think Eminem and Coldplay. How do they look in comparison? Today´s stars want to be portrayed as real. Notice the sudden trend in reality TV shows? Paris Hilton and her pal in The Simple life? I bet when you watch the Simple life you think Paris and her pal are morons. Is that because they are morons? Or is it because you think that living the false lifestyle of credit cards, flash cars and a $10,000 Louis Vuitton handbag is crass? It´s an interesting question. Would today´s reality focus have worked back in 1971 when all we were dreaming about was giving peace a chance?

Reality branding is what´s cool today

Understanding this shift in social attitudes is the good news because now you can apply that to your own business.

Relentless repetition used to be the only requirement to drive the branding message home, now it isn´t quite as easy as that.

Dove is a great example of this shift in thinking. Yes they still do repetition, but they get the message across to real women by showing them ads with real women in them. Gone are the stick like models, because our social conscience won´t allow us to let our daughters grow up thinking that skeletal is beautiful. In are normal looking women with real curves and different types of skin showing that Dove is good for them.

To communicate with today´s audience who are completely sick of advertising, you need to communicate facts and real benefits, not features and value based statements.

Communicating facts and benefits in your copy

If you write copy like your business school teacher taught you 20 years ago you will be out of sync with the current trend of thought. Below, Roy Williams describes how value statements can be seen as hype;

Modern advertising overflows with values-based statements: "Big selection." "High quality." "Low prices." "Easy credit." Even though these statements may be true in the mind of the advertiser, the public has heard them all before.

The left hemispheres of our brains detect fact-based statements and prefer them to statements that are values-based. Having been suffocated by hype for the past 40 years, we hunger today for statements of fact. Roy Williams Monday Morning Memo 5

Values based statements still have their place but backing it up with facts will cut through the clutter more effectively. If you see ´low prices´ in website copy will you read on? Maybe, maybe not, but if you see a price which is attractive for a product you want then you´re looking for your credit card.

Take your PPC ad which says ´MP3 players ´ Exceptional quality, high storage capacity and low prices´. That might and probably will attract a lot of people who are seeking information about an MP3 player. However selling the same product with fact based statements you could give your reader a much better idea and make your ad stand out from the crowd ´MP3 players ´ High quality with 100GB storage for thousands of tracks $399´.

Of course the second ad will attract far less traffic than the first because you´re pre-qualifying people. Hmmm, well isn´t that what you want from a PPC ad? People that know what you have and wants to buy what you sell?


1 The Wizard Of Ads Academy 2 5000 BC Post on the membership forum. 3 Victor Hugo French dramatist, novelist, & poet (1802 - 1885) 4 Wikipedia - A list of slang terms used in the Hip Hop culture. 5 Monday Morning Memo for September 26, 2005

Author: Steve Jackson, Editor - Conversion Chronicles Steve Jackson is CEO of Aboavista, editor of The Conversion Chronicles and a published writer. You can get a free copy of his e-book sent to you upon subscription to the Chronicles web site (

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