Here’s an ‘authentically me’ experience.
When I was 19, my parents packed me off to university with a crate of violently coloured alco-pops, I think Reefs if I remember correctly, and a disposable camera.
I believe their parting words were “have a good time dear, we’re off to spend your inheritance” or something like that.
I took their words to heart. Documented evidence of this can be found on my bookshelves in the form of ropey photo’s taken on said camera, including one particularly attractive shot of me in a karaoke bar at 4am singing Elvis.
Good times and authentic because it genuinely happened. No there was no craft involved and it certainly wasn’t glamorous but hey I never said it would be.
Fast forward 15 years and human behaviour has changed a little. I no longer drink Reefs for one thing.
The other thing that seems to have changed is our understanding of the word authentic.
I don’t know about you, but this word plagues my inbox, it litters my shopping, it crowds out the things I see on TV. Everyone seems to be telling me they are authentic.
So it seems to me we are having a little crisis in branding. The word ‘authenticity’ has become the ointment with which to soothe a bit of self-doubt.
You only have to spend approximately 1 second looking around before you find the critter.
- Walker’s Deli Crisps – ‘inspired by authentic deli produce’
- KFC ‘Authentically’ Pulled Chicken?
- Goose Island IPA – craft ale (owned by AB InBev)
- Harris & Hoole – independent craft coffee house (owned by Tesco)
This little beauty has not been contained just to food and drink either.
“Would a less than authentic banking institution sponsor a fuckin infomercial on famously hip media platform Vice? I do not think so. It’s hip moves like these that may have you asking yourself: How can I, a millennial with disposable income, learn more about Bank of America’s commitment to connecting with my generation in an authentic manner?”
“Bank of America is Authentic and Hip – Just like you”
Hamilton Nolan, Gawker, 24.06.15
Yes this referred to an interview that Meredith Verdone, marketing exec from Bank of America gave to Ad Age in 2015 talking about the Bank of America brand and their quest for authenticity amongst a millennial audience.
Yes even banks want a piece of the authenticity racket.
What does it all mean!
One thought might be that we as human beings are operating in a void of ‘authentic’ real experiences. A recent Ofcom study of 2014 suggested that we spend 8hrs 41minutes a day on our media devices. That is a lot of time being spent in a digital space and so it is not unimaginable that this void idea might hold some water.
But are we so stifled by our digital experiences that a KFC ‘authentically’ pulled chicken burger can really be the answer?
Do we lust after the solid and physical world around us so much that marketers are right on the money when it comes to plastering the world with ‘authentic’ brand experiences?
I fear not and here is why.
Online, brands live and die by creating good product experiences, which address needs we often didn’t even realize we had.
Think of Spotify, or Google, or Strava, or Tinder.
The usefulness of what they offer is at least good if not great. It is also often free. People vote with their feet almost immediately if something doesn’t work.
It means brands have to work double time online to keep products working, keep them fresh with new innovation and updates and generally speaking to make them super useful.
An app that doesn’t get used languishes in a sub-folder on your phone until it simply gets binned.
In the rest of the world, brands of products and services don’t have that same compulsion to think about the usefulness of their products.
Apple can bring out a new product or update every 6months that literally changes your life and yet in food and drink it can take almost 2yrs just to launch a new flavor variant of a brand that is already duller than the dullest dishwater.
As Helen Edwards has commented:
“Yes, the fourth wave of content marketing has arrived, but consumers aren’t waving, they’re drowning in an ocean of branded pap, and the interactive lifeline they really want to be thrown is the one whereby companies promptly answer calls in person, keep their promises, make better products.”
Helen Edwards, “Don’t drown your consumers in an ocean of branded pap.” http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/article/1319655/helen-edwards-dont-drown-consumers-ocean-branded-pap
Authenticity isn’t about a human desire for realness. Most of these branded versions of authenticity are about as close to reality as Katie Price’s bra size. Authenticity cannot be claimed and it is not a value. It is something that is earned.
So next time you are in a meeting and someone says something like:
“I think what people really want is authenticity”
Say this. No they don’t. What human beings craves is stuff that works.
Easier, quicker, better for you, tastier.