Relentless transparency: What it means to us, to brands and to society in general.

October 20, 2011

Our personal and professional lives are merging like never before. Instead of placing our public and private personae into two distinct buckets, and trying to avoid spillover, we are rapidly becoming a mixture of both, spills be damned. The evidence is all around us. Athletes, heads of state, and CEO’s tweet about this, that and the other, some going too far, others not far enough. Popular culture demands both personae. Look at reality TV. Talk shows. Chat rooms. Comment strings. Everywhere you turn people are revealing their innermost selves, peeling back the onion: crying, fucking, working, playing, acting and being real…all at the same time. It’s all so all-inclusive.

I’m in. And even if I wasn’t and you’re not it’s still happening. The Internet and social media are forcing transparency. If you don’t open yourself up others will do it for you. In any industry, the most popular websites and blogs are the ones that make it their business to know other peoples’ business. Yes, the relentless self-disclosing can be embarrassing, infuriating and downright gross (see dong shots, see reality TV) but that’s the world we live in. As Bob Knight once said: “If rape is inevitable you might as well enjoy it.” He got hammered for the vulgar comment. Yet, he was prescient for making it.

What I like about ‘relentless transparency’ outweighs what I don’t. It forces us to lead one life as opposed to several. It forces us to be honest where we otherwise wouldn’t. The merger can be painful but the pain is revelatory. We might screw up. Lord knows I have: I’ve said too much; I’ve said to little. But so what? We learn. We become one.

Of course, corporations and advertisers are reluctant to participate. They want to control the message. But they no longer can. Transparency, like it or not, is the new reality. By definition, this means messaging has to become more honest as well, owning up to flaws and telling consumers the truth. Dominoes admitted their pizza was mediocre and told us what they were doing about it. That was their advertising campaign!

Good things happen. McDonalds starts selling salads. Kellogg’s uses whole grains. Cars go electric. And so on. And they make money doing it: A win-win. To paraphrase another ex-coach, Dennis Green: We want brands to be “who we think they are.” Like Apple. Like Nike. Those that send mixed messages pay a price. The stiff upper lips of bankers everywhere (and the brands they represent) quiver at the sight of evermore people occupying Wall Street.

A while back I stopped trying to separate my Linkedin profile from ‘me’ on Facebook. Now I more or less use Facebook for everything, spillage be damned! I Tweet personal content as much as professional. I can’t tell the difference. There is no difference.

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2 Responses to “Relentless transparency: What it means to us, to brands and to society in general.”

  1. This is really frightening to me. I know this is written from an advertising standpoint, but as a really private person I find it disturbing that people don’t know when the personal should stay personal. I do sporadically write a blog, but I don’t put down any really personal details about myself or the people I know or my daily life. I don’t even really want to know about the minute details of other people’s lives. The spillage is too much, and people aren’t as interesting as they think they are.

    This new level of almost repulsive self revelation won’t make corporations more honest or responsible. It just provides other forums for them to do false advertising and to track what people do on their personal computers.

  2. Tracy said

    How did that cartoon go? “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog?!” A current happy hour conversation is how, besides overshare, social media allows those with a filter and some remaining sense of shame, to reinvent themselves and be their own best PR — presenting only the most carefully selected and edited face to the world. Someone cooler, smarter, happier and better looking than they may ever be in the flesh. And that Facebook’s timeline feature will allow users to rebuild a rose-colored past, now, too.

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