by Marguerite de Villiers. In a post-truth era, a time where intuition trumps intellectualism, consumers are looking to connect with products that they can relate to — something that resonates with them. It’s time to transcend the boundaries of consumer and product truths, and look for those universal motivators behind consumer behaviour: the human truth.

The truth is…

A product truth is often a message communicated about, well, the product: what it is and what it does. It’s intended to assist consumers in forming or altering their perspective and opinion of a product or brand. A human truth goes beyond the product and category; it explores the socio-cultural world of the consumer to try and understand what motivates their behaviours and perceptions of products and brands.

Inspired by growing interest globally in genetics, heritage, and lineage, Marmite in the UK recently released a “Marmite Gene Project” advert. This shows a series of scenarios in which different families receive the results of a Marmite test, which determines whether they were born loving or hating Marmite.

As a product, Marmite knows that it is either appreciated or despised for its distinctive taste. As a brand, it has often drawn on this, its very own human truth. It so cleverly resonates with both lovers and haters of the product that it becomes irrelevant, whether or not you like it. The brand and its communications connect more strongly with something that goes beyond personal taste.

Alternatively, if the product or brand doesn’t speak to a universal human truth, there’s the option of applying culturally relevant research and communication methods. Ethnographer and researcher, Anya Evans, used Tinder as a methodological tool to reach people who were difficult to connect with. Applying the principals of Tinder (namely, the way it operates by gathering data about individuals, and connecting those individuals with people in search of specific criteria), Evans was able to navigate through the restricted field (Occupied Palestinian West Bank) and interact with the people within it.

Imagine the possibilities for market researchers and advertisers looking to communicate with hard-to-reach consumers by simply using the technology that people are already using.

IKEA catalogue 2017Why be limited to human truth and cultural method; why not use both? IKEA is on a mission to “put people first”. In an extensive ethnographic study, IKEA sent researchers on home visits around the world to better understand what “domestic bliss” looks like culturally and geographically. This hasn’t only informed its product innovation; it’s given it them a clearer idea of who its consumers are.

We all have basic needs, desires, and preferences that manifest in different ways. It’s up to the marketer to uncover these human truths; it’s the task of the advertiser to effectively communicate them; and it’s the brand’s mission to connect with a human truth.


Marguerite de VilliersMarguerite de Villiers is an anthropologist at strategic marketing consultancy, Added Value. “Post Truth”, her new regular column on MarkLives, addresses marketing in the post-truth era.

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One reply on “Post Truth: Functional truth in marketing”

  1. It seems to me that Marmite was, in fact, preying upon the human desire for status and prestige i.e. to be “in”.

    The “scientists”s diagnosis of not having said “gene” is akin to being rejected: it’s not me that doesn’t like Marmite. It’s Marmite that hasn’t ‘chosen’ me.

    This attempt to create demand where there previously was none through social manipulation is shrewd, if not outright unethical.

    Human truths, as you refer to them, are fickle at best in the (post) post-modern – current – era in which we live. The mounting arguments against social media portray a potential advertising medium and socio-cultural information resource that is prejudiced to pre-assumed notions e.g. people can be reduced to likes and interests a la Tinder.

    Ikea’s claim of world ownership is one step shy of claiming world domination. If fascism taught us anything it’s that it inevitably leads to revolt. I, personally, don’t fancy living in Ikea’s world and its notion of suburban utopia and am inclined to overthrow them by dimishing their market share by not buying their products. My fundamental human desire for freedom and individuality may not be the ‘human truth’ they were aiming for.

    Marketing that’s geared towards ‘human truth’ needs to practise extreme caution when both identifying said truths and defining a narrative accordingly. ‘Human truths’ are sublime and romantic in nature, and are not to be wielded as mere toys, tools or weapons. Perhaps a more profound awareness and respect for ‘human truth’ would make for better communication of a brand or product’s “idea”.

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