[Translate to English:] Saint Elmo's: Die inszenierte Authentizität


Staged authenticity

09. September 2019, Hubertus von Lobenstein

"People increasingly see the world in terms of 'real' and 'fake,' and want to buy something real, not a fake from a phony. Now more than ever, the authentic is what consumers really want." This is a quote from the book "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want" by Gilmore / Pine. The list of such wisdom from blogs, books and lectures could go on forever. As the industry magazine W&V stated in January of this year: "The biggest challenge today is to get consumers on board in a targeted and authentic way." 

Authenticity is in. It's one of the favorite words of marketers, especially the social media fans among them. And hardly an agency briefing in which it's not in the category of "brand attributes". How popular it is, can also be seen in the results of a Google search: 

Authentic Advertising – 254 million hits
Authentic Brand Marketing - 96.5 million hits

Authentic brand – 22.2 million hits
Social Media Authenticity Brand – 4.9 million hits
Authenticity Advertising – 500 thousand hits

There's nothing wrong with authenticity itself. On the contrary, who wouldn't like to comply with the following Wikipedia definition on authenticity: "Applied to persons, authenticity means that the actions of a person are not determined by external influences, but are justified in the person himself." But with the personal brand Lobenstein, authenticity is a bit of a thing. Clearly, I imagine that in everything I do, say and write, the real Lobenstein remains clearly recognizable. But I have a partner, children, friends, customers, readers, followers. Am I not really determined by external influences? Get real! 

To make matters worse, according to Margaret King and Jamie O'Boyle of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, people also reinvent themselves roughly between the ages of 35-40 and then again between 55-60, redefining what makes them authentic. Even as a human, it's difficult enough to be authentically authentic and to stay that way!

Brands in authenticity check

How much heavier must the authenticity postulate be for brands? What sets true authenticity apart from this marketing-driven pseudo-authenticity that's decoded by 10-year-old children as unreal and implausible? Marketing and advertising are always staged. Is it not completely absurd to talk about authenticity in this context?

In the year 2000, scientists Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman have developed four criteria as a measure of genuine authenticity in a study:

  1. Awareness: We need to know our strengths and weaknesses as well as our feelings and motives, that's why we behave one way or another. Only through this self-reflection are we able to consciously experience and influence our actions. Brand check: Self-reflection is not exactly a proven talent in brands, visible and audible self-deception in one's own performance earlier. Authentic is different.
  2. Honesty: If you want to be authentic, you have to face reality and also accept unpleasant feedback – be it visually or verbally. Brand check: The talent for dealing with unpleasant feedback can be found every day on countless social platforms. Let's just say it keeps within limits. Community management, dialogue as equals and in real time? This is a difficult topic.
  3. Consequence: If you have values, you should act accordingly. This also applies to once set priorities or in the event that it barters disadvantages. Hardly anything seems more phoney and stupid than an opportunist. Brand check: Under the guise of brand stretching or spreading, brand-name pure indulgence can be viewed every day in supermarket shelves and shop windows. Stretched beyond recognition and far from the constant hustle and bustle of the next trend and consumers who can barely be reached, fewer and fewer brands really stand for identifiable values and consequent action.
  4. Sincerity: If you want to be true, you have to show the greatness to reveal your negative sides as well. Brand check: Most brands do not have negative sides per se. At least not officially. And these certainly don't become part of a discussion with the supposed target group. End of the marketing announcement.

The briefing sentence "Our brand must be/remain/become authentic" is quickly written. But the spirits summoned are dangerous. Because even if it's supposedly the order of the day in the age of social media: it's not enough to want to be authentic and then just pretend. Either you are really authentic, but with all the consequences mentioned above, or you can keep your hands off the business of authenticity. Especially in times when brands and their actions can no longer hide from the many watchful eyes of the web, target groups unmask the staged marketing authenticity in record time. Managing the resulting brand damage takes much longer than falling into the authenticity trap.

Brands do not have to be authentic in order to be successful. At least not all. And certainly not for the wrong reasons. There are other ways into the hearts and minds of potential audiences. Ways that many brands can use more credibly than to insinuate being real.



Saint Elmo's Berlin Kreativagentur

Saint Elmo's

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10117 Berlin

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E-Mail: berlin@saint-elmos.com

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