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Brand Authenticity is one of the most misunderstood terms in marketing.

Brand Authenticity Is More Important Than Ever. It’s Also Misunderstood By Some Marketers.

These days, it seems like marketers everywhere are searching for “Brand Authenticity.” It’s definitely a popular buzzword right now. So popular, in fact, that Googling the term yields 19 million results.

So what’s all the fuss about? Mostly, it’s about the buying habits of the Millennial generation.

That’s right. Millennials.

Millennials Aren’t Like You and Me

For some reason, Millennials think differently from just about every generation that came before them.

First of all, they’re well known for their rejection of advertising. They don’t like being sold to, and they view marketing in general as a bunch of ploys and gimmicks.

Secondly, they’re a LARGE audience. A huge percentage of the buying public.

So what were marketers willing to do to reach this audience? Answer: whatever they had to.

So in the blink of an eye, marketers changed their approach to marketing.

Suddenly, glitzy TV commercials were out, and replaced with YouTube videos and content marketing. And that means—you guessed it—embracing brand authenticity.

Brand Authenticity?

Instead of trying to project an image with advertising, brands are taking a straightforward approach.

It’s well known at this point that Millennials value authenticity. They place a higher value on genuine brands.

There’s even research to back this up.

In one study, respondents were willing to pay more for jeans from the original Levi Strauss factory. In another, they paid a premium price for Hershey’s Kisses from the original plant in Hershey, PA.

So it’s no wonder, brands today are leveraging their history and heritage in order to seem “authentic.” From the Budweiser Clydesdales to KFC’s many incarnations of Colonel Sanders, brands are conveying quality by tapping into their past.

Here’s an example. Chili’s restaurants broke a new campaign that takes the chain back to its 1970’s roots. The company’s founders are shown as “hamburger hippies” in vintage home-movie footage.

Fake Authenticity

Of course, in the cynical world of marketing, authenticity doesn’t have to be authentic.

In 2006, J. Crew acquired the name and trademark of a defunct workwear company, and relaunched Madewell as an expensive line of women’s clothing. One small wrinkle: a brand that had always been made in America was now being manufactured overseas.

“This is, to put it mildly, baloney,” wrote Dan Nosowitz in a Buzzfeed essay. “Madewell as it stands today has almost nothing at all to do with the company founded by my great-grandfather almost 80 years ago.”

How many vintage labels out there have similar stories? How many corporations are rifling through the brands of America’s past like a bin of used records, looking for something that will give them the glow of authenticity?

A Filmmaker Fights Back

Some marketers really do believe authenticity can be faked. In one hilarious example, a commercial filmmaker called them on it, posting an open letter online.

In his letter, director Johan Liedgren wrote, “Shooting mostly ugly customers and the beige-fest interiors of your production plant, documentary style, doesn’t make you sincere. The use of many different capture formats like Super 8 (including the obligatory film roll-outs) and home-video will not make the work any more authentic….If this ploy works with your customers, they must be idiots. 

They either think a publicly-traded company would use Super 8 film to produce commercials, or they believe someone buying your products uses a really old video camera to document employees at your plant.”

Our best advice: Never lie to a Millennial or try to fake authenticity. It’s far easier to build trust with customers by just being yourself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions. Before starting his business, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.

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