It seems like everywhere you look another brand is saying, “Choose Happiness” or “Good Vibes Only.” While the intent is to inspire, this can lead to toxic brand messaging. Great marketing addresses the entire spectrum of the human experience, which isn’t always positive. You can’t just gloss over the difficult parts with a “good vibes only” brand and pretend like you’re helping others.
What once started as an empowering rally cry is now a toxic brand message. It’s time to take a hard look at how it can be causing more harm than good. To create an authentic and successful brand, you need messaging that conveys the good and the bad—here’s how and why you need to shift your strategy.
First: Understand Toxic Positivity
The first step to shifting your brand messaging is realizing that a “good vibes only” theme is toxic positivity masquerading as cheerful content. The definition of toxic positivity from Dr. Jaime Long, licensed clinical psychologist, and Samara Quintero, licensed therapist, explains:
“Toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations that results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.”
Let’s break down why this is bad for your brand messaging.
It Invalidates Real Feelings
Real people with complex emotions engage with your content and see your social media posts and blog content. If you pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows perpetuates the idea that we should be happy all the time, which is far from the truth—and not realistic or human at all.
For those of your followers or readers who are having a bad day, this message makes them feel as though their feelings aren’t valid. While it’s not your job to validate everyone’s feelings, it is in your best interest to bring a sense of realness and belonging to your marketing
It Rings as Hollow
Not only do these statements make it seem as though we should be happy all the time, they can come off as inauthentic. Ella Delancey explains the core issue with the “good vibes only” messaging:
“Across social media, it’s difficult to avoid saccharine pastel posts about ‘being your best you’ and stark orders for ‘positive vibes only’. But what do these words actually mean? Rather than being helpful sentiments, statements like this can often be empty, inauthentic platitudes, offering nothing actionable or constructive.”
It Makes Your Audience Feel Bad
Ultimately, these inauthentic messages leave people feeling bad about themselves. A recent scientific study supports this, finding: “the over-promotion of happiness, and, in turn, the felt social pressure not to experience negative emotional states, has implications for maladaptive responses to negative emotional experiences.”
In simpler terms, shoving positivity in the face of your audience doesn’t make them positive but in fact has the opposite effect.
How to Shift From “Good Vibes Only” to Reality
Expressing our emotions and putting a lens on the messiness of life is brave and essential. Dr. Susan David, a psychologist, gave a Ted Talk on the power of emotional courage. She explained that in surveying over 70,000 people, she found one-third of them judged themselves for having “bad emotions” and actively tried to push them aside or encourage their loved ones to do the same.
She explains that these normal emotions, of feeling sad, unhappy or upset, are now being labeled as good or bad.
“Being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. People with cancer are automatically told to just stay positive. Women, to stop being so angry. And the list goes on. It’s a tyranny. It’s a tyranny of positivity. And it’s cruel. Unkind. And ineffective. And we do it to ourselves, and we do it to others,” David says.
We live in a complex moment in time, with racially-, socially-, and politically-charged events happening daily that are reverberated back to us via social media streams. So how does your brand walk the tight-rope and create authentic messaging that avoids toxic positivity?
How does your brand, even if it isn’t related to these types of events, still engage in meaningful conversations with your audience? These tactics can help you shift your messaging while connecting and building an authentic brand.
Focus on Relatability (But Avoid Cliches)
To be unique and engaging, without being inauthentic, go back to the basics: understand the frustrations and pain points of your audience. The example below from TheEveryGirl speaks about the common issue of getting stuck in our stress with quick tips to fix it—something their audience likely struggles with. Similarly, check out this video post that shows an “expectation vs. reality” situation.
This type of content resonates with their audience and as a result, shares a message that’s supportive, which allows their followers to connect with their brand.
For another example, refer to Lululemon’s New Year’s Day post below. After 2020, the last thing anyone wants is “New Year, new me” BS on their feed. It was a challenging year. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Lululemon read the room, and instead of tired “inspo” or ideas for resolutions, they shared a love letter to yourself.
Understand the Difference Between Relevance and Realness
The events of blackout Tuesday turned into a social media moment where we learned about performative allyship, the act of posting a popular cause just to show you’re taking part but not actually doing anything else about it.
At the same time you can’t ignore social or political movements either. Sprout Social’s recent survey on what audiences want from brands showed that more than two-thirds of social media users (67 percent) believe brands should raise awareness of social issues. Take a look at the graph below to understand more of what the current consumer wants.
What you post, and how relevant and relatable you are all comes down to authenticity and sincerity.
- What are the relevant conversations for you to have as a brand?
- What’s impacting your industry or community?
- If you post about a social cause, are you actually doing the work behind the scenes?
Remember, while you want to be an authentic brand, you don’t have to participate in every conversation. Know when it’s relevant for you to participate or step back, and when in doubt, provide support to your audience in a way that’s most relevant to you.
Tune Into Your Audience
“Good vibes only” messaging is often a cop-out because it’s easy. You don’t know what your audience wants or needs or how to connect with them, so you throw out a happy meme and hope for the best.
To create authentic messaging, you need to be in touch with your audience, starting with social listening. You need to be “on” social to be social. Intentional scrolling, engaging with your followers, following competitors and other industry-relevant accounts, all of these steps ensure that you’re creating content that truly resonates, supports and up-lifts your followers and readers.
The Sprout Social survey data echoes this, saying: “When brands create, participate in and even host relevant conversations online, 44 percent of consumers say they would feel more connected to them.”
For example, in November 2020, I realized that social media burnout was a prevalent issue for my audience of entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and coaches. These individuals needed to be on social media for their business, but it was exhausting them. So I created actionable resources to help reduce social media fatigue leading into the holiday season—and the engagement shows that it was exactly what they needed.
Ask Questions and Engage
I cannot shout loud enough about making time to engage. Brands consistently have issues with missing the mark or not understanding what their audience wants, and then wonder: why are we not getting engagement? Why don’t we have a lot of likes?
The thing is, your audience is out there, but you have to interact with them. Taking it one step further than tuning in, your job is to converse, have dialogues, comment, and show interest by asking questions.
Check out this Instagram post from Buffer. The social media platform asked their Twitter audience for industry predictions for 2021. A simple and brilliant strategy, this allowed Buffer to understand their followers’ interests, which they can then create content around, while promoting engagement and knowledge-sharing within the community. Plus, they then repurposed the response into a UGC Instagram post. A slam dunk—and no “good vibes only” in sight.
Keep Reading: Branding in the Age of Social Media: How to Get it Right
Avoid “Good Vibes Only” Toxicity with Authentic Messaging
Promoting a “good vibes only” mentality is tone-deaf, and at it’s worst, harmful, because it doesn’t reflect reality. Our day-to-day feelings aren’t black and white. If you want to create an authentic brand with content that resonates with real people, use these strategies and examples to shift your messaging and truly connect with your audience.