This week’s most ridiculous digital marketing drama is the backlash against Kylie Jenner for dropping her phone while filming a product demo in her car.

She posted the video to TikTok featuring one of her new new lip products, and the post has gone full-viral as a heated debate rages on in comments and stitches about whether or not her phone drop was staged.

@kyliejenner new lip blushes available now 🤍 @Kylie Cosmetics ♬ original sound – Kylie Jenner

Here’s why it matters:

The TikTok takeover of social media attention has brought with it a wide variety of new ways to create content. If you’ve scrolled for more than a few minutes you’ve likely seen some combination of dance videos, sketch comedy, shopping hauls, and cute animals (among many other things). The common thread that binds all of these pieces is the sense of realness that is a breath of fresh air in contrast to the perfectly shot Instagram-aesthetic.

That reaction is as natural and as cyclical as pop-culture itself. Let’s look at music, as an example. The early 2010s were an era of highly produced artists like Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga. The music matched the beautifully shot music videos, dramatic stage shows and the perfectly-lit photo shoots that ended up getting millions of views on IG and YouTube.

So far this decade fans have gravitated to the types of artists who appear to be more real, more unplanned, and less polished, especially in the way that they show up on social media. Personalities like Olivia Rodrigo, Bad Bunny and Lil Nas X have built massive careers in part because of their direct connections to their audiences. Music lovers are turning away from the impossibly perfect portrayals of superstars and towards people who seem to be much more relatable, and who just happen to be extremely talented.

If social media is where pop culture happens, then why would it be any different?

The people who are coming for Kylie are claiming that she’s faking authenticity, that her phone drop was a manufactured way to make herself appear real to her followers. Some are even going so far as to suggest that Kylie would never drive herself, so it must have been staged shoot.

The reality is that filming unscripted videos in your car is as old as the Internet itself – the original reason that we were all drawn to YouTube was because we could watch videos uploaded by real people anywhere in the world. Does anyone remember Chewbacca Mask Lady and how stores couldn’t keep those masks in stock for months afterwards?

As this idea of social media matured, we all got progressively better cameras on our phones and nearly everyone learned some basic editing techniques. The result was that all of our content’s quality naturally increased to near-professional levels.

Eventually, the apps and our editing skills got so good that we could start to manufacture scenes, settings and even eliminate the slightest imperfection from our digital presence. We all tried to create content that lived up to the cultural standards, but like every other trend, once it’s saturated the market there is the inevitable opposite reaction that takes us in the other direction, and that brings us back to Kylie in her car.

Kylie and her family have built an empire by understanding, and in some cases leading, shifts in the way that we create content. Staged or not, the fact that she was promoting her products on a shaky iPhone in her front seat rather than on a professional set (which she has easy access to) tells us a lot about what’s working in content marketing today.

What brands should be taking away from all of this

There is a real opportunity for all of us to look back at the last cycle of relatable-content culture. Back to the early days of social media when people were rebelling against TV and magazines, and brands were able to create big wins by connecting with people in an authentic way.

In those days it was remarkable for a brand to have a sense of humour, to care for its customers enough to tweet back at them, and to post unedited behind-the-scenes content.

Today, brands have tried just about every content trick that’s available, and the technique that is about to come back in a big way is direct human connection. Whether that’s a founder being vulnerable on camera, brands taking the time to take care of their customers, or businesses bringing people into the product development process, human connection will never not be valuable. In our haste to publish the most incredible influencer collaborations, the most shareable IG Reels, and the most shoppable carousels, many of us have forgotten how much value we got from things like surprise and delights, community crowdsourcing, and content that tells raw human stories of the people behind our businesses.

There are brands who have been doing these things all along. They may have missed out on some viral moments, or seen top-level engagement numbers level off, but in just about every case, they’ve maintained a fiercely loyal community of people who feel a commitment to the brand, which positions them perfectly for this next phase of digital marketing. A few that come to mind include JetBlue, AirBnb & SalesForce.

One small business example that we’ve been loving is Knuckle Bump Farms in South Florida. The farmer share raw, unscripted animal moments via TikTok that have attracted millions of followers, and driven so much traffic to their website that they completely sold out of all of their products, launched a line of merchandise and then immediately sold out of that as well. Here’s a personal favourite example: The never-ending story of the missing ducklings – enjoy.

@knucklebumpfarms The neverending story🐣 #babyducks #whereisyourmother #farmlife ♬ original sound – Knuckle Bump Farms