Because I recently participated in a conference panel discussion on the subject of Real Time Marketing. Because our agency just completed a campaign in which the idea and tone of “real” played a major part. And because I was struck this week reading David Chase’s heartfelt eulogy at James Gandolfini’s funeral, where he referred to Gandolfini’s rambling approach to giving a speech by saying:

“…Except in your case, it didn’t matter if it didn’t make sense because the feeling was real. The feeling was real. The feeling was real. I can’t say that enough…”

Because all of the above, lately I seem to be more aware of the concept of “real” and the constant struggle for more of it in our work, our agency and our lives. Plus, I can’t think of a better topic for this 4th of July holiday week.

The promise of “real” is an advertising standard—almost a category all of its own.  Most brands strive for their image and communications to have an intangible, real element to it—and agencies work hard to try to create it for them. Unfortunately, this great quest for real is often ultimately relegated to horsey “man-on-the-street” type presentations, shaky “improvisational” camera work and everybody’s favorite, “real people casting” (the inside joke always being, if it’s not a real people cast, what kind of people cast is it?) The biggest problem, of course, is that advertising by its very nature, is not real. Advertising is manufactured fantasy and calculated persuasion through an idyllic lens—free of “ring around the collar”. To add an element of real people casting to this only compounds the problem, painting it a bright color that clashes out loud.

The real answer to a brand’s quest to be more real is not in its ability to do reality-based advertising, but in its ability to express itself with more vulnerability. To be real is to be vulnerable—an admirable trait in humans that elicits emotion, dimension and complexity, while it speaks to us in terms we can relate to at a higher order. But being vulnerable is not an easy thing for most brands to deal with. We’ve been brought up to believe that our greatest brands must be infallible, impersonal, mini versions of Superman sitting on a shelf or showroom floor—truth, justice and the American Way.  To be vulnerable is 180 degrees from that. To be vulnerable is to be willing to show imperfections, reveal something beyond the corporate veneer, and to do so with an acknowledgment that this vulnerability is not by accident, but by nature.  Embracing our own self-awareness, modesty and honest imperfections is what being vulnerable is about. But for a brand, vulnerability ladders up to something bigger—an ability to be more “human”—the Holy Grail of what a brand aspires to and, as we discussed to great degree in the panel I was on last week, being more human is the one true way for a brand to succeed if they want to succeed in today’s “real-time” world. There’s that word again.

To be continued.