By Victor Gamez published February 19, 2016 Est Read Time: 4 min

Visual Realism: The Way to Build Trust With Your Audience


As user-generated content floods the web, more and more brands are cultivating the so-called “glitch aesthetic” as a way to ditch the polish and build trust.

Few would dispute the importance of visual content to brands. But is it possible for a brand to choose images that – by virtue of feeling more authentic – build trust?

One answer lies in user-generated content (UGC). A recent study by Nielsen found that 84% of consumers say they trust people they know over direct advertising, which explains the huge surge in interest among brands in building user-generated content as well as working with influencers who can publish on behalf of brands.

But let’s take it a step further: What if the images your company publishes emulate the look and feel of user-generated content? How would that work and what would it accomplish?

Look and feel of UGC

If there’s a center of gravity for visual UGC, it’s shifting closer and closer to Instagram and Snapchat. These visual platforms surged in popularity three years ago, according to Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report.

Instagram has enjoyed faster growth rates than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest between 2012 and 2014, and has become the most important and most-used social network for U.S. teens, according to the Pew Research Center.

Snapchat is also a powerhouse with an average 100 million daily users, according to Meeker. It has the youngest user base — 45% of Snapchat’s adult users are between the ages of 18 and 24 — of any social channel, as comScore reports.

45% of @Snapchat’s adult users are between 18-24, more than any other social channel says @comScore Click To Tweet

And yet, too many brands trying to build followings on Instagram and Snapchat forget the aesthetic of these channels. Far from perfectly posed images or elaborate sets, the types of images that work on Instagram and Snapchat feel spontaneous, imperfect, even quirky.

Glitch aesthetic

The types of images popular on sites like Instagram often emulate (whether intentionally or not) a style of visual art called glitch art. Guy Merrill, senior art director at Getty Images, describes the glitch aesthetic as being defined by image errors – oversaturated colors, overexposure, lens flares, pixelation, and the like – that are either intentionally made or added in post-production. These images would have been rejected by art directors a decade ago.


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Merrill characterizes the aesthetic as a way to bring authenticity to your brand, explaining that errors and imperfections help you stand out in an environment filled with picture-perfect content. “In our increasingly curated world, there’s a pull toward an aesthetic that feels messy and unexpected,” Merrill says.


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The glitch aesthetic describes much of the content found in abundance on Instagram and Snapchat. (Channels like Pinterest and Tumblr also have tons of glitch-inspired imagery in niches like fashion and design.) Videos are a little shaky and unrehearsed. Photos are slightly crooked or have an arbitrary composition. And images tend to use filters available through dozens of mobile photo apps – including lens flares and overexposure. The result is a visual style that creates a sense of identification with the photographer or videographer as a real person.


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Integration of UGC and brand content

Ultimately it’s not an “either/or” proposition for brands – should they use UGC or simply imitate it. Most large companies incorporate all three: User-contributed photography and videos, influencer visual content, and brand-designed visual content.


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The important thing, however, is to ensure that your brand-created content is not wildly inconsistent with the look and feel of your UGC and influencer content. Brands that use the aesthetic well are able to present all sources of content in the same stream, without an abrupt switch between styles. And content from brands on channels like Instagram and Snapchat feels less like an interruption and more like an in-stream experience.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bimonthly magazine.

Cover image courtesy of CCO Magazine

Author: Victor Gamez

Victor Gamez leads editorial research projects on the integrated marketing team at Percolate, the system of record for marketing. Before joining Percolate, he delivered insights and guidance to CFOs, heads of strategy, and general counsel as a senior analyst at CEB, a best practices research firm. You can reach out to him on Twitter @Victor645 and on LinkedIn .

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