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Could your brand’s weakness be its biggest strength?

There’s nothing more human than acknowledging your flaws, so why aren’t more brands doing it?

4 mins
Written by
alan Team
Published on
July 5, 2024

Social media has done a number on us. Any perceived flaw can be eradicated instantly with a filter. This mentality has bled into our work life and brands today are loath to show their weaknesses, let alone openly address them.

But, there’s nothing more human than acknowledging your flaws. So, why aren’t more brands owning their weaknesses? 

Nearly half of all decision makers (43%) want B2B brands to demonstrate that they understand their experience as a human being, according to our survey, The Power of Provocation. In fact, 58% of respondents feel greater affinity to a brand when they connect with them on an emotional level. 

So, could your brand’s perceived weakness turn out to be its biggest strength? It would certainly be a novel approach in a market which shies away from owning flaws.

Surprise, after all, is a useful tool that is underutilised by the B2B community. Our survey revealed that 82% of decision makers find B2B marketing predictable and repetitive. That’s a big opportunity for those marketers who are bold enough to take a defiant stand in their marketing messaging and speak about their flaws.

In this blog, we explore the power of plain talking and how to own the conversation around your company’s perceived weaknesses.

What does it look like in practice?

There’s a scene in the third episode of Mad Men where Madison Avenue ad man, Don Draper and his team discuss the Volkswagen Lemon ad. They go back and forth debating whether the ad is any good, but at the end Don rounds off the conversation by saying: “Well, say what you want, love it or hate it, the fact remains we’ve been talking about this for the last 15 minutes. This is Playboy.”

Its dubious origins aside, Volkswagen had mountains to climb in establishing a foreign car in a market dominated by American muscle cars in the late fifties. Self deprecating humour, which addressed common perceptions that foreign cars were defective, was used in a humorous way to position the brand as both honest and aspirational.

Samsung’s recent campaign, Join the flip side, used a similar technique by putting a voice to a common challenge faced by the brand. The campaign’s protagonist repeatedly claims she would never switch to Samsung, because she loves her phone. Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam’s campaign is bold in that it embraces a common reason people give for not switching to Samsung.

“You put yourself in a much better position as a brand if you do not pretend to be something that you are not,” says alan Chief Creative Officer, Benedict Buckland. “It’s almost better if you actively point out your weaknesses as people tend to be much more trusting of you.”

What do you need to consider?

This technique has a name, the pratfall effect. It refers to an experiment conducted by Elliot Aronson in 1966, which found that competent people that make mistakes are found to be more attractive than average people performing a blunder. Calling out your brand’s failings works in a similar way.

“An apparent act of self sabotage could be your biggest credibility builder,” explains Buckland.

For B2B brands, this could be as simple as acknowledging your position in the market. You may not be the leader, the cheapest or the most trendy option, but calling this out in your marketing is both eye-catching and has the potential to give customers confidence in your brand.

It can be a scary prospect for marketers to openly acknowledge a brand’s perceived “flaws”. Nobody wants to be the one who calls out the company’s shortcomings in a campaign and then see the campaign fail. But in a world of bland B2B campaigns, taking the filter off and shining a light on your brand’s biggest weakness could turn it into your biggest strength.

Download our full report The Power of Provocation here or contact us on 020 3877 3800 or email contact@alan-agency.com to find out how we can help bring a provocative approach to your next campaign.

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