By Jenni Ashwood.
Authenticity is a word used a lot these days, whether it’s from the production of your food to the way a company acts to the rising use of social influencers and, of course, the proliferation of fake news.
It’s hard sometimes to be a customer. When supermarkets use names on their devised products that sound like they could be an ancient farm in rural England but which are created in offices in the suburbs of European cities, it’s difficult to know who or what to trust. Of this practice, the UK Soil Association says “People deserve better. We increasingly want to know where our food comes from, and we want honesty and authenticity1.”
It’s about far more than just food, or the UK though. And we’d argue that it’s actually about more than authenticity too. That word has become a catch-all for craft and ‘hand-made’ – multiple stores and experiences claim to be ‘authentic’ when they’re as fabricated as the supermarket pork brands (Jack Wills2, we’re looking at you). A lot of this came from the desire to ‘tell stories’ that permeated the advertising landscape in the mid-2000s. As our trends change, so do our expectations from the brands we use.
From our point of view, the natural evolution of authenticity is transparency. From production lines, to working conditions, to history, we’re finding that (as in the rest of life) if you tell the truth and are clear about things, people are more likely to believe you.
Is this going back to an older and more traditional approach to advertising messaging though? Feature + Benefit = Reason for customer to buy. Going from the emotion-first-approach of the last fifteen years back to a much more product led approach?
No – it’s more sophisticated than that. In fact, it’s about combining that sensible and explanatory product benefit, with something that tugs at the heart-strings too and, crucially, doesn’t feel like there’s any smoke and mirrors hiding things.
Who’s doing this well?
Well, the monarch of authentic and truthful marketing continues to be Patagonia who are totally open in how they produce their clothes, how and why they sell them, and what their company is about. But it could be argued that even they aren’t going far enough.
Everlane3 (a relatively new US brand that, until very recently, has had no bricks-and-mortar presence) focus explicitly on their transparent pricing structure and their belief in being open and obvious. This comes across in everything that they do, from their break-down of costs, to their product naming strategy, and their #transparencytuesday campaign where they will answer any question you send in on their Instagram stories. We were particularly big fans of their method to demonstrate the effectiveness of their waterproof and warm down jacket… floating them on a lake in Canada!4
And proof that it doesn’t work… well, the old American Apparel store across the road from our office on the end of Carnaby Street speaks volumes. A transparent approach to product that didn’t manifest itself in the company’s own actions.
As a movement, this is something we’re really excited about, from a communications point-of-view but also as consumers ourselves. Because not only does it give compelling reasons to align yourself to a company and their ethos but it actually works the other way too. As a company, you might not be super ethical or sourcing your products from the most responsible places. However, as long as you’re telling the truth and not trying to hide it, you’re giving your customers a reason to both respect and buy.