Should You Use “Real People” In Your Advertising?

I recently spotted this posting about one of the latest examples of an “employee on a rampage” to go viral. Bad enough to have a situation like this make the social media rounds, but what if you’d just used this employee in a “feel-good” advertising campaign? Or, what if Domino’s had used its now-infamous employees in a campaign? I was just interviewed by a trade publication about the wisdom – or lack thereof – of using “real people” (generally, real employees) in advertising spots.

Those who have worked with me know that I’m pretty strongly opposed. For a number of reasons which I’ll outline below. But, clearly there are other perspectives and, yes, there may be times where it makes sense for a company to use “real folks” in their campaigns. Perhaps the company brand image is built around its employees. Perhaps the campaign is somehow integrally tied to employee images. Still, I’d proceed with caution.

As the director of corporate communication in the investor-owned energy utility and health care industries, and as a university lecturer on marketing and communication topics, I’ve both read about and have been involved in the development of a number of campaigns that have, at times, used real people. Based on my observations and experiences, I’m not a strong proponent for a variety of reasons:

– Particularly in large markets, those seeing your advertising are very unlikely to know that these are “real employees.” In addition, many consumers are skeptical that the “real employees” shown in ads, really *are* real employees, and not just actors intended to portray employees, so the value is questionable.

– “Real employees” don’t generally come across well in advertising – especially broadcast. As easy as actors make it look, being on camera or delivering lines for any medium is not easy. When employees must be used, however, certain techniques can help to overcome this – e.g. filming them in some “natural setting” with voiceover that is recorded separately.

– Real employees don’t stay with a company forever and sometimes do things that may be embarrassing. That can be costly. I have been involved in situations where campaigns have had to be pulled because a prominent employee left the company or, for some other reason, was no longer determined to be “appropriate” as a representative.

– Companies will sometimes say that using their own employees in their advertising makes them (the employees) feel good. That’s great, but I’d have to ask whether that is — or should be — the driver behind an advertising campaign targeted at consumers. The two objectives seem, to me, to be different and, therefore, require different approaches.

Much depends on the *reason* for using “real employees” in advertising. Often, this tends to be more driven by internal desire/ego than by any legitimate marketing/advertising need. But, every organization and every marketing goal is different. If it works for you, it works for you. I’d love to hear examples and perspectives on both sides of the issue!

(Here’s a copy of the article where I was quoted: Real Employee Marketing Campaigns Prove Successful For Some)

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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