Is Advertising Evil? WREN’s “First Kiss” shows us that it doesn’t have to be.


You can’t have missed “First Kiss“, the viral video featuring strangers sharing a kiss on camera. It turns out that it was a commercial for WREN, a women’s clothing company based in Los Angeles. The 20 people in the video were friends of CEO Melissa Coker– actors, models and musicians by trade.

Whatever kisses have to do with fashion, the interactions were heartwarming and beautiful. I definitely cracked a smile and held my breath while watching the pairs fumble through the awkwardness.

Initial reactions to the video were overwhelmingly positive. But when word got out that it was an ad, disillusionment quickly followed.

Bloggers and online media were eager to take the video to task, their responses ranging from ambivalent to cruelly satirical.

The reactions to “First Kiss” speak volumes about the ad industry’s image problem.

The fact is, nothing about the video was scripted. Coker’s methodology deliberately kept the kisses spontaneous. She made sure to pair friends who didn’t know each other. The kissers had no idea when the take began or ended.

And surely actors, models, and musicians can have perfectly authentic interactions. They’re human beings too!

But the cynical reaction to the discovery that First Kiss is an ad is hardly surprising, even if it isn’t well-founded:

  • Chloe Della Costa, in her article “Why people hate the ad industry” , points out that the advertising industry has a poor and declining reputation in the US.
  • A study done by Adobe found that 53% of its consumers surveyed agree that “Most marketing is a bunch of B.S.“.
  • The wildly popular Onion article satirises advertisers as a collection of people whose only apparent ability is to trick other people.

Consumers are so quick to tear down “First Kiss” because they assume an adversarial relationship with advertising.

Criticisms that “First Kiss” could’ve been more ‘real’ and representative are neither novel nor unique.

  • Every ad excludes something. About the same time “First Kiss” was made, Betabrand released its spring collection entirely modelled by female PhDs. It wanted to celebrate “bodies of women with really big brains“. But for all the applause it got on Twitter, it got as much flak from critics who felt that Betabrand represented women too narrowly, and excluded working class women.
  • “Real Beauty” is not real enough for some. 2013 Viral Campaign of the Year – Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”, which got more than 114 million views, lots of support, and as much criticism that the video needed to be more representative of women.

Viewers definitely want ads that reflect their reality, inspire their thoughts, and tug at their hearts. They’re also always aware of what is inevitably left out, and how things could’ve been different. So a good dose of criticism probably means a brand has engaged successfully, just like meeting enemies in a video game means you’re headed in the right direction.

It’s better to engage (and possibly offend) than to be ignored.

Advertisers must produce content that add value to their audience, or be dismissed. We’ve earlier established that  advertising world is now a viewers’ market because of the sheer ubiquity of information. Ads that don’t entertain are clicked into oblivion.

Advertisers stand to gain. Entertaining and engaging advertising can be cost and time-saving.

“First Kiss” was born partly out of necessity – director Pilieva herself admitted that there were no rules and barely any time or money. Recall also Oreo’s Superbowl win that was little more than a well-timed stroke of wit and humor. Call it the Dove blueprint – but brands are realizing that more ‘unprocessed’, authentic advertising scores brownie points with consumers at no extra cost.

[Tweet “Advertising will not be a zero-sum game for brands that keep their ears on the ground.”]Above all that, advertising also has the power to affect social change.

This is often understated: When advertisers engage real people and pressing issues, they become loudspeakers for social movements. Brands like Google, Chevrolet, and AT&T threw their weight behind LGBT people in Russia, in their ads anticipating the Sochi Olympics. In India, a diversity of big domestic brands lend their voice to the local gay rights movement.

Of course, no social change is achieved easily or quickly. But because of their reach, advertisements are effective facilitators of that process – they intiate, and become nexuses of, dialog and advocacy.

Isn’t that an amazing thought? Advertising can benefit not just businesses and consumers, but the larger community.


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