Corporations’ Bid for Connection: The Power of Relatability

Written by: Niyanthri
Edited by: Sara
Visuals by: Macy

Relatability: a reliable way for corporations and individuals many times richer and more influential than any of us will ever be to show that they’re just like us. It’s one of the oldest advertising tricks in the book. One of the most famous and recent examples of this is Elon Musk. Musk’s online presence isn’t always the easiest to understand – simply searching up his name will take readers on a wild journey. At any given time, nobody knows what he’s going to do: will he be launching a starship to the moon, or promoting satirical cryptocurrency? To a certain degree, this is a significant part of what makes Musk so popular amongst his fanbase, which mostly consists of middle-class millennial men. The unpredictability and the drive to herald a new future for humanity, while simultaneously inspiring absurd memes, leads people to see him as a person that they too could be if they only tried hard enough. Nevertheless, Elon Musk is far more successful than the vast majority of the population will ever be – but his underdog stories, so to speak, give him the opportunity to reach a larger user base. People like to know that they’re not so different from the billionaires our society raises on a pedestal; Elon Musk’s impassioned, deeply personal speeches about his childhood and the path he took to create Tesla have resonated with many. However, Elon Musk is not the first or only individual to employ the strategy of appealing to the audience through displays of humanity and authenticity. This has been a hugely effective advertising strategy throughout much of modern history; for centuries, it was done through newspaper advertisements, or more recently, TV commercials. But the introduction of social media to the field has made it at once easier and more difficult for influencers and corporations to connect to their audience. It’s more important now, compared to previous times, to be aware of how relatability is used by corporations, and why we are so susceptible to it.   

From Jeff Bezos tweeting about Lizzo to Denny’s Tumblr account, billionaires and corporations have been trying to expand their customer base through social media for years. In the third week of August, a video went viral showing a McDonald’s Drive-Thru employee advertising the Saweetie meal using the catchphrase “that’s my best friend,” a line from Doja Cat and Saweetie’s record breaking single Best Friend. The response online was mixed, with many puzzled as to why corporations were so obsessed with being relatable, while others found it an entertaining marketing strategy. However, despite all the confusion, one thing was for certain: it attracted a lot of attention to McDonald’s, and the Saweetie meal in particular. In this manner, the company was able to use social media as a form of successful marketing without having to spend a single cent. 

Arguably, personal engagement has become one of the most efficient ways to expand a company’s audience. To these ends, the question of the hour pops up once again – why are corporations trying so hard to appeal to their audience through relatability? What advantages could these roundabout marketing techniques possibly reap? For companies that have tried them, these social media stunts have in fact been very successful at generating massive revenue. For example, after Wendy started interacting actively with its base on Twitter, they reported a 49.7% increase in profits between the years of 2016 and 2017. McDonald’s recent partnership with BTS, a Korean boy band with a powerful social media presence, resulted in a 25% increase in sales. There have also been many studies on why people are attracted to things that are relatable to them, one of the most prominent being validation. Knowing that someone, especially famous, influential people, have similar attitudes and likings makes us feel more secure in our appreciation of these things. There’s also the aspect of familiarity – the feeling that we are a part of something bigger and more important than ourselves. In the age of COVID, this connection is something people cling to more than ever, and it seeps into the buying habits of consumers as well. 

Clearly, online audiences are much more influential than we think. Relatability has been an important aspect of advertising for a very long time, but in the age of social media, it takes on an even more predominant role.  


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