If there is one thing that marketers and consumers alike agree is that we are living in the age of ad ubiquity. Marketers have uncountable tools to track, map, analyse and target consumers almost everywhere, while consumers feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of brand information they receive daily. The average person is exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 adverts every day. The result is a very, very crowded media landscape and ad-exhausted consumers.
Advertising seems to be going through an existential crisis. Once seen as an enjoyable moment, advertising’s cultural clout has dwindled to the point of becoming a nuisance. While the 2000s saw the dawn of the personalisation of ads and the 2010s the emergence of online ad blockers—for you to have an idea, over 37% of users globally utilise ad blockers—the era of subscriptions in the 2020s gave people the opportunity to go ‘ad-free’ as long as they are willing to pay. ‘Ad-free’ is becoming aspirational for many consumers.
Against this backdrop, brands should ask themselves what they could do to create relevant communication that can cut through all the ad clutter and noise and resonate with consumers. The easy answer would be to suggest brands develop innovative products or services that could outdo the competition and find new ‘white spaces.’ Yet, for years, brands have been trying to find those white spaces or create blue oceans (you pick your favourite marketing metaphor) in which their new value propositions could sail in uncharted—and potentially lucrative—waters. That strategy, if well executed—and lucky, one must say—can indeed be rewarding for brands. But this somewhat tired formula is a one-way strategy centred on the brand and what it can offer. What it does, though, is to leave out of the equation a particularly important variable in brand strategy, human beings.
When a staggering 90% of consumers say authenticity is vital for choosing a brand, it becomes clear that a partial answer to that existential question lies in the worn-out buzzword authenticity. One way to get authenticity right is for brands to embrace digital culture's unpolished and uncurated nature. Tapping into the social trends and know-how of younger generations can position brands not only as content savvy but as active members and creators of the chaos that is the contemporary digital culture.
Fashion brands such as Glossier, Jil Sander and Ralph Lauren are identifying the value of embracing such chaos. With a consumer-centred and culture-led strategic approach to their communications, these brands are doubling down on authenticity but with a plot twist. Instead of tired clichés about brand authenticity (be real, be consistent, be transparent and so on, which aren't wrong in themselves, don't take me wrong), they are adopting the lifestyle and aesthetic of the consumers and choosing to look amateur. By tapping into the power of amateurism, brands are unlocking new ways of engaging more genuinely with consumers. And this approach is what we call a lo-fi brand strategy.
While there’s no magic trick to creating a lo-fi strategy, there are some successful examples we can draw inspiration from. In her research, Dr Liron Simatzkin-Ohana maps three of the most salient amateur brand aesthetic strategies that could help rethink how brands should look on social media. The most salient lo-fi tactics are regramming, raw celebrity, and brandfies.
Regramming consists of brands reposting screenshots of user-generated images on their official profiles on Instagram, which creates a feeling of deep connection with consumers. In this 'win-win' situation, users create content for brands hoping to gain followers while brands embrace a more amateurish style without compromising the whole brand aesthetic.
Raw celebrity tactic is when brands use uncurated and seemingly more personal—sometimes blurry, poorly lit, badly composed—pictures of models and celebrities they sponsor in the brands' official accounts. The raw celebrity tactic aims to feature celebrities and models as normal people doing normal stuff while allowing the brands to appear vulnerable, more human and less superficial.
The third lo-fi activation, brandfies, is when brands post selfie-looking images of themselves. Brandfies are a way for brands to show a more personal and human side inserted into the digital culture and part of people's daily experiences instead of an image of a big and distant corporation. Through brandfies, brands not only perform their social lives and personalities but also reveal their physical appearances and viewpoints.
These are in no way exhaustive activations of the lo-fi brand strategies but only successful examples that can help create salience and resonance with consumers. Wendy’s Boomerbook campaign is an excellent illustration of how a lo-fi strategy can engage positively with people. Using humour as another way to activate the lo-fi approach, Wendy, by mocking Boomers’ social media skills, played the role of an online Boomer using lo-fi aesthetics as a way to look more human. And it worked. The lo-fi ads by far outperformed the traditional ones.
The ultra-fast-fashion giant, Shein, is a master in embracing the lo-fi brand strategy in the APAC markets. To win over the heart of Filipinos, for instance, the Chinese brand empowered local influencers to co-create the brand narrative in the country and drive virality, adding to it an amateurish and genuine vibe. For local brands already fully immersed in the digital culture, such as Karu Research, an India-based menswear brand marrying traditional craft techniques with contemporary workwear silhouettes, and Nita Cosmetics, a Malaysian cosmetic brand, combining their cultural heritage with the lo-fi aesthetic is something organic to their brand strategy and communication. While Nita often uses the regramming tactic, inviting consumers to create their content with the brand, Karu Research taps into the raw aesthetics of Indi'as working culture to elevate its brand DNA.
As the borders between brands and creators are becoming ever more fluid with the hyper-acceleration of tech and the expansion of the content creator culture, adopting a lo-fi brand strategy can create candid connections with consumers as it opens opportunities to build communication that feels unpolished, organic and, well, more authentic.
Matheus Lock is a senior behavioural analyst at consumer insight agency Canvas8.