Note: this article is a republishing of an article I wrote two years ago on Coding the Image. I leave it here for posterity’s sake.
If you’ve been anywhere near the internet these past couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen this viral video of a collection of complete strangers kissing each other. Most likely, you found out about it from someone sharing it on their Facebook page, perhaps with a comment about how even in our materialistic, consumerist world, we can still find beauty and genuine emotion in simple moments such as these.
As we all know now, it turned out to be a commercial for a fashion label, and a very well-executed one at that. I think the fact that this particular video went viral speaks volumes about our collective desire for authentic experiences, supposedly untarnished by commercial interests and ulterior motives, and, ironically, the ability for anyone to tap into this desire for their own purposes.
In today’s information-overloaded world, we’re constantly being bombarded by advertisements, recommendations, “linkbait”, “sponsored content”, and a whole host of other tools designed to capture our increasingly diminishing attention. Whether it be Facebook’s algorithms for showing you the content you’re most likely to interact with, or Google’s constant mining of masses of metadata to deliver you more relevant advertisements, these tools have become integral with how we use the Internet today. So deep are we entrenched in the morass of messaging and hidden motives that we instinctively grasp for anything which tugs at the heartstrings and appears to be simple and genuine. Perhaps I’m being unfair on us as a whole; after all, we can choose to take as much or as little meaning as we like from what we see on the Web. On the other hand, the fact that First Kiss has garnered well over 20 million views in such a short space of time shows there is at least some chord that’s been struck by the video’s play to emotion.
In that sense, then, authenticity has become a resource in this age, on par with information itself. In fact, it’s more than that; perceived authenticity has become the method by which information is judged. Those who have the ability to deliver experiences that are authentic enough for their audiences reap the rewards of higher quality engagement; those who do not run the risk of backlash, like we’ve seen with the countless attempts at “sponsored content” on media sites such as The Atlantic and others.
With respect to the tech industry, what personally strikes my interest is what the Visual Supply Company (VSCO) has been able to do to build that sense of authenticity through their aesthetic and user experience. As people have grown to recognise Instagram’s filters, and its move towards advertising, people have started to adopt VSCO’s mobile app (VSCO Cam) to deliver a cleaner, more film-like look, hearkening back to classic photography. For the most part, it works extremely well, producing images pleasing to the eye, and the popularity of the #vscocam hashtag on Instagram shows no signs of abating. Just as important as the product itself, though, is what VSCO has done to build the image surrounding the product. It’s partnered with photographers through both journal pieces and artistic scholarships, and has also partnered with companies such as Levi’s for initiatives such as branded filters. By doing all this, they’ve managed to maintain a brand message consistent with its audience’s desires and in keeping with the aesthetic of the genuine.
Perhaps as online services and industries evolve, they will eventually deliver a better alternative to the authentic human experiences we crave. But for now, we’re still sharing and clicking on the things that makes us feel in touch with what’s real, and the companies that can deliver that sense of the genuine are holding their users’ attention longer and building an incredibly valuable reputation in the face of the torrent of content on the Web.
Originally published at codingtheimage.com on March 26, 2014.