Brands want to be a part of your life. Whether or not you realize it, they are seeking desperately for new ways to become something more than the product you throw into your shopping cart, or the service that is used absentmindedly. The companies who are truly successful, that retain a consumer advocacy, understand that finding real-world relevance to the consumer’s life is paramount.

However, in this saturated media landscape, with overwhelming choices of messaging and avenues of engagement, this type of relevance is difficult to achieve. So, how have some brands managed to do so? They’ve adopted a singular persona. Now, instead of brands being “we,” brands are becoming “I.”

At CultureWaves, we have been watching the subtle transition of brands shifting their marketing presence. They’ve gone from speaking to their audience as a company or collective to interacting as an individual—thus, the emergence of the “Brandsona.”

The brand-as-a-person move can be summed up neatly with KFC’s recent mascot revamp: the colonel got a whole lot better looking. But KFC didn’t cast a supermodel or enlist an Instagram influencer–they made their own. The restaurant chain literally CGI’d a completely fictional person to be the new KFC Colonel and the face of their new social media campaign. The dapper colonel mimics other social media influencers: giving out life advice; delivering motivational stories; and, of course, hawking KFC products.

The homefield for brands that are building up a persona is social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, where brands can engage in a continual dialogue with consumers. In the course of researching this phenomenon, I stumbled upon a tweet by @TwitterMktg that pointed out the “brand as a person” concept and asked their followers for their thoughts. Naturally, one of the first responders was the Steak-umm, a brand who sells frozen steaks, saying, “I for one think it’s great.” The brand has created a colloquial voice on social media that is targeting Millennials by utilizing memes and current pop culture trends within their message to increase the marketing relevance.

This kind of meta, self-aware social media engagement can be effective in attracting a fanbase. The attempt to humanize the brand is changing the language that companies use publicly. Where once brands might have been hesitant to offend, the brand personas are willing to use snark, sarcasm, and even lob insults at one another as a way to seem more human.

But brand humanization can be taken too far.

Sunny D recently had a huge swing and miss—one that left many people with a bad taste in their mouths. Sunny D recently tweeted, “I can’t do this anymore.” Other brands such as Moon Pie and Pop-Tarts were quick to express sympathy and support. Ostensibly this was a relatively harmless tweet, but the allusion to depression drew a great deal of criticism. A brand can’t experience depression, and to seemingly capitalize on a growing mental health crisis struck many as inauthentic and contrived.

The question of authenticity is one that brands who chose to adopt a singular persona will have to grapple with. However, the consumer’s understanding of authenticity is shifting. Many of us in the younger generations live our lives increasingly online, where the gap between real and virtual is, at its most, tenuous. Consumers are more likely to feel that it’s okay if the spokesperson, or spokes-entity, for their favorite brand isn’t a real person, as long as the persona can relate to “me” and speak “my” language.

As brands search for that next avenue of relatability, some have found a unique answer in an online persona. After all, what’s more relatable than another person?

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