In late 2009, Domino’s released a brutally honest commercial, publicizing customers’ overwhelmingly negative feelings about their pizza—and asking folks to give them a second chance. It was a massive risk, but one that paid off. The quarter following the campaign’s release, same-store sales were up 14%.
No matter how you slice it, risk-taking has always been a hallmark of strong brand marketing. In the world of social today—where generating organic reach feels like a moving target and production budgets are limited—pursuing smart risks can be the deciding factor in your content’s success.
Enter: lo-fi content. Publishing visuals and video that hasn’t been scrutinized in creative briefs and edited ad nauseum carries a degree of risk. But as we explain in this article, it’s what audiences crave.
Keep reading to learn how to build the business case for creating more lo-fi content, and ways to integrate it into your social strategy.
What is lo-fi social media content?
Lo-fi social media content is personality-driven social media content that has low production value. Social media consultant and Link in Bio newsletter creator Rachel Karten summed it up in a Sprout masterclass webinar, “You have to do something weird or wacky or fun or personality driven. People now expect brands to show up in that way across all platforms.”
Lo-fi content looks and feels more authentic and less glossy than traditional branded social content because it usually is. It’s often shot on an iPhone and involves little if any editing at all, making it more budget-friendly (with a better ROI than highly polished content).
Lo-fi social media content is still selling to your audience, but it doesn’t feel like it. Examples of lo-fi content include, but are not limited to:
- Facebook photo dumps
- Screengrabs of TikToks
- Instagram Stories that are clearly shot on someone’s phone
The risks and rewards of lo-fi content
For emerging and established brands alike, lo-fi content can be a step outside of the marketing comfort zone. Unpolished posts run the risk of showing your product or service in a non-aspirational light (even if it’s highlighting a very real customer use case), or showcasing a sense of humor that your audience might not get.
Done well, however, the upside of smart lo-fi content is undeniable, from higher ROI to scaling your brand awareness efforts. By striking the right balance of casual and relevant, these posts can humanize your brand and encourage shareability.
What’s driving the shift toward lo-fi content?
The pendulum swing from pristine, big budget advertising campaigns to lo-fi social content has been building up for years. There are a few factors that have contributed to this shift:
1. The pandemic
During our webinar, Karten noted how the challenges brands faced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards more lo-fi content. Specifically, more conservative budgets and the inability for marketers to travel and film on-site.
As major brands began to incorporate more low-budget content into their feeds out of necessity, they noticed something—audiences ate it up. It was an early sign that aspirational content wasn’t the only option anymore.
2. The algorithms
The more a particular post gets shared, the more likely it is to land on the Instagram Explore or TikTok For You pages. Today, it’s off the cuff, lo-fi content that users are more likely to share with their followers.
In other words, the combination of consumers wanting more authentic posts combined with algorithms rewarding that content led forward-thinking brands to ask themselves a simple question when creating social content: “Would you share it?”
How to take smart risks with lo-fi social content
Lo-fi doesn’t translate to low effort, nor is it a pass to be less thoughtful or strategic about your content. Here are four ways to create intentional lo-fi content that entertains and engages your audience:
Listen to your audience
Do your research—lo-fi content may not take as much time or budget to produce, but that doesn’t absolve teams from strong planning. Social listening helps you get a firmer grasp on what your customers are talking about, both in general and as it relates to your brand. This Sweetgreen TikTok, for example, hooks viewers by immediately acknowledging pervasive feedback about their prices.
Know what differentiates your brand from direct and indirect competitors
This will help you pinpoint the right opportunities to bet on lo-fi social content and how to bring these moments to life. Getting this right depends on understanding the behaviors, norms and fandoms that are unique to your audience. Regional fast-food chain Culver’s does this often, playing into their Wisconsin roots without formal voiceover or on-camera talent.
Be real and show up as such
Many consumers place greater value on brands that aren’t buttoned up or picture-perfect all the time, especially on social. Karten recommends doing something as similar as posting an image dump with lo-fi imagery to show your brand’s true colors or heritage.
For example, in the wake of its 2020 bankruptcy and subsequent brand turnaround, Brooks Brothers has leaned into a more casual approach on social–with simple static posts reviving old catalogs and quick get-ready-with-me TikToks—aimed at appealing to a younger generation of shoppers.
Partner with influencers driving trends
Sharing your brand’s platform with someone else always carries a certain amount of risk. But influencers and creators are masters of lo-fi content. Engaging and partnering with the originators of so many different social trends can have long-term benefits for brands.
Karten spoke to an example from Cava, which partnered with The Devon Maid, a TikTok creator who was going viral for a video on how pasta shapes walk. The subsequent post, featuring The Devon Maid’s take on how various Cava toppings would walk, over-performed in terms of both likes and shares. It allowed the brand to participate in the trend without stealing the idea from its original source.
Make major announcements more relatable
Large corporate announcements may seem like the one arena where a lo-fi approach isn’t worth the risk. But if the Tennessee Titans’ 2023 schedule release video is any indication, even this tide is turning.
For the announcement, the Titans produced two videos: One with high production value featuring celebrities including comedian Nate Bargatze, Jelly Roll and Keith Urban, the other, a lo-fi video asking random people in downtown Nashville to identify their 2023 opponents by their logo. The lo-fi version outperformed the more polished version significantly—82,000+ likes and 2,100+ comments compared to 15,000+ likes and 249 comments on Instagram alone, drawing engagement from major brands such as Cheetos and even teams on their schedule.
Why did it work? The Titans version was raw, it was real and, most importantly, it was hilarious.
To mitigate lo-fi content risks, never stop testing
For brands accustomed to full-fledged TV commercials, expensive out of home billboards and glossy print spreads, lo-fi social content may seem like a major marketing risk. But as the previous examples demonstrate, when done right the payoff is undeniable.
Marketers looking to take bigger swings with lo-fi content should still take a test-and-learn approach to find the tone, format and timely references that resonate best with your audience. Download our creative testing worksheet to find the formula that makes sense for your brand.