Can Imperfection Sell?

Darts in bullseye of dartboard, front view, focus on bullseyeWhen I analyze advertisements, I give far less consideration to the product itself than I do to the lifestyle or ideal that it is selling. Take one of the recent Windex television spots, for example. Sure, the clean windows are nice, but I would venture a guess that many would rather purchase the lifestyle – children who rise out of bed when the sun shines and rocket towards the bus stop without prodding. The benefits that the creative implies one can receive from purchasing Windex are what sell in this spot.

That said, imagine my surprise when I read the recent Fast Company article, Why Brands Should Strive for Imperfection. Author Martin Lindstrom suggests that, since nothing is truly perfect, brands should stop selling perfection and sell imperfection – not manufactured imperfection, but true, everyday imperfection.

A blemished face, less-than-slim model and a below average vacation

When considering the idea of selling imperfection, one is left to question whether or not people would actually buy in. If an acne treatment product said it cured 40% of breakouts, would anyone jump at the chance to purchase it? If the model in the advertisements face wasn’t completely clear after treatment, would it drive consumers to action?

Think about a vacation to a warm weather destination. Would the advertisements for the Bahamas, Jamaica or even California look anywhere near as enticing if the weather were cloudy or rainy? If the oceans weren’t crystal clear? If everyone there weren’t smiling and having a wonderful time?

While we may know deep down that we aren’t guaranteed the same fabulous experience, I believe that there is a piece of us that likes to think we can live the ideal.  That a plane ticket purchased for one of the above destinations will inevitably result in a memorable vacation full of sun and smiles.

Although I concur with Lindstrom that many of the most watched YouTube videos are far from perfect but still garner a sizeable audience, there is a significant difference — YouTube content is free! Consumers are only investing time in viewing the latest American Idol outtakes and other humorous content, not dollars.

There is something to be said for being able to relate

While I am not about to shell out money for a plane to ticket to a warm weather destination that markets itself with images of downpours and unhappy visitors, I wouldn’t mind hearing a product endorsement from someone who uses and believes in the product, as opposed to someone who is paid to use and believe in the product. Perhaps hearing about how well a cleaning product worked from a real mother of five with children traipsing through her home would be more compelling than a celebrity or model housewife raving about her experience with the product.

Lindstrom says in his article, it isn’t about highlighting negative product attributes, and I couldn’t agree more. However, how does one draw the line between the ideal and reality while still projecting a brand image that sells? At what point is the risk or mess involved with product usage worth the benefit? More accurately, is this society ready to buy into imperfection and part with the glimpses of the ideal that have sold products so well for decades? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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