Are You Paying More For Fake Authenticity?
While we like to think of ourselves as individuals, we are largely consumers, and as such, we are by all accounts craving authenticity. Market research is on to us. Companies are lining up to sell us authenticity, even if it's fake.
Authenticity, I have discovered, is one of the cornerstones of contemporary marketing practice, yet confusion surrounds the nature and use of authenticity in the brand arena. To quote one journal on the subject, "Creating an impression of authenticity requires creating a sincere story." To me, this sounds like a conundrum, if not an actual paradox. Lie, and do it sincerely?
The developers of the "Perceived Brand Authenticity" scale reviewed research to capture the key idea that authenticity is far more than a simple objective attribute; authenticity has psychological, subjective and symbolic value, too – authentic brands are true to us personally, stand for what we stand for, and help us be true to ourselves. Their conclusion is this:
“In a world where we use brands not only to reduce risk when buying but also to express ourselves, validate ourselves and manage our image, brand authenticity matters because personal authenticity matters. By buying brands with brand authenticity, we are saying something about our personal authenticity.”
Hey, it's better to know what marketers think of us than to blindly respond to their tactics, right? Personally, I don't think I'm searching for authenticity, but I react poorly to obvious bullshit. I was astounded when an online store I follow sent me news about a curated collection of used t-shirts with the following sales pitch:
"At ____we view the exploration of clothing design as part of an anthropology piece. Like all facets of life, you can catch the future direction by understanding the past and these coded lessons are there to be handed down and learned from. By caring and studying the past we believe it enables us to offer an authentic experience, something that is increasingly hard to come by these days."
Authentic, eh? Here's the rest of it:
"This collection has been inspired by the level of curation evident in the best record stores, and aims to display a snapshot of tees from genre defining bands. Each shirt tells its own story. From paint splatters and bloodstains to pristine condition, it’s clear the band T-shirt serves many different functions over time."
Sure enough, the t-shirts were old and thrashed, and when I checked back, they were sold out, at around $194 each. Is it authentic to go around wearing a pricey t shirt worn to shreds by somebody else? Apparently yes. Just like pre-ripped jeans, you can affect a look of casual, salt of the earth sloppiness by paying extra. In jeans, as in all things, there is a hipness factor. You get more points by insisting that your true love is your beat-up Levi’s 501's. A popular company called Redone is making new Levi's out of old Levi's. You could buy the real thing at a thrift-shop for $9 but why spend the time? Let Redone make you feel authentic for just $250 more.
Do you want a brand to feel like a friend who knows your needs and shares your values? If so, why? Don't you have people to perform these functions? Does your preferred beverage signify your tribe or status? Does your hamburger of choice spend enough time joking with you on social media? In the US, burger chains are competing for your loyalty on Twitter via funny hashtags and slang. Do you actually want a relationship with MacDonald's or Wendy's?
I think we've arrived at the point where authenticity means its opposite, like the word "literally." Don't let words confuse you. Insist that words retain meaning. It's a slippery slope. Before you know it, Fake News will mean anything that doesn't support your current regime. Oops, that already happened. You get my drift, though.
Authenticity used to mean real or genuine. Now it's an advertising concept employed to pander to our insecurity. Unless we have a solid base of Instagram followers, we fear we are nonentities, nothing but a loser with no brand identity. But you can learn to embrace your amorphous unbranded self! That is how to be authentic, authentically, and it won’t cost you a penny.