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The Pursuit of Authenticity

May 21, 2018 • Grant Weber

Authenticity is the latest craze to seize the interest of marketers, led by ever-changing customer attitudes toward what brands they support. According to Stackla’s 2017 Consumer Content Report, authenticity is a critical deciding factor in brand choice.

Authenticity Matters Most

image: Stackala

The report, based on more than 2,000 consumer surveys in the United States, UK and Australia, found that 86 percent of consumers feel authenticity is important, but that more than half (57 percent) believe that less than half of brands create content that is authentic. Clearly, there’s an authenticity deficit between what customers want and what brands are delivering. With the pursuit of authenticity comes the rise of brands that create the whiff of authenticity but on closer investigation lack it. Take the beer category as one example.\

Brewing Up Some Heritage

Old Aggie Brew
image: Colorado State University

At first glance, the script font on the package suggests that a sip of Old Aggie would take college football fans back to the days of leather helmets and striped sweaters. Even the name Old Aggie suggests the brew has been around for decades. In reality, Old Aggie is anything but old. Colorado State University’s partnership with New Belgium Brewery started in 2013, and for the past five years, the university has been capitalizing on the throwback trend that has been well received by heritage beer enthusiasts. Yet it’s also clear that packaging, which says “The Original” and “Est. 1870,” is actually true (the university was established in 1870).

Brands like Miller Lite and Budweiser are among a number of longstanding brands that have brought out retro versions of cans to compete with the rise of local craft beer. In 2016, Budweiser rebranded its signature can to incorporate the old Anheuser-Busch crest along with the word “America” instead of the company’s name.

Following marketing success, the brand is at it again in 2018 with a new specialty brew with not just a patriotic stance but also a connection to the heritage of our country. Budweiser claims that its limited edition Freedom Reserve Red Lager is “inspired by George Washington’s hand-penned recipe from his personal military journal dating back to 1757.” The recipe, retrieved from the manuscripts collection of the New York Public Library, is not an exact replica but inspired by the presidential brewmaster. In this case, Budweiser is seeking a halo of authenticity for Bud’s overall positioning as a patriotic brand and using the father of our country as the inspiration. It does raise the question of how many consumers will realize that the can of Freedom Reserve they’re quaffing is brewed by a brand that didn’t exist when the recipe was conceived, or that the recipe is not a genuine recreation of the brew but merely an inspiration.

Staged Authenticity

Sometimes, brands’ quest for authenticity extends beyond the packaging or provenance of a recipe. In the case of Disney’s Epcot World Showcase, it’s a case of creating what Disney terms “staged authenticity.”

For the one or two readers who have never been to Epcot, the World Showcase is a promenade along which sit 11 representations of countries including Great Britain, France, Canada, Mexico and Germany. Most of these countries have a similar set of experiences available to the visitor: a restaurant, some history or artifacts of the country, a ride aligned with the country’s development, climate, or culture, and stores selling imports from the country.

Most visitors would perceive these country representations as fake. But Disney’s quest for staged authenticity seems to have worked, if a guest survey is anything to go by. Most respondents indicated that they saw the country representations as fantasy, not reality, which is consistent with the Disney brand. It’s also difficult to envision how many families would pay hundreds of dollars to attend a theme park exhibit if its depiction of British hospitality was a Basil Fawlty character or imagery of the abandoned steel mills in the Midlands.

The survey also found that visitors felt the World Showcase was unique and was meant to seem real. Owing to the efforts Disney goes through to hire people from each country as servers and shop assistants, the sense of authenticity is increased, borne out by the survey result that ranked Epcot as “more authentic than staged.” And judging by the fact that Epcot consistently draws 11 million visitors per year, it seems to be working.

Finding Your Brand’s Authentic Voice and Character

In a world where people crave authenticity (but don’t always find it) comes an opportunity for many brands. Find your authentic brand voice and character, and then create and deliver authentic content to your customers.

A brand is not only selling a product, it is selling trust and a promise of value. Most consumers want to engage with brands that they believe in and that align with their personal values and beliefs. They want the genuine article, not a fake. Or if they do want “staged authenticity,” then it’s clearly in the correct context and with intent to entertain, not deceive. Authentic content offers a powerful tool and is often readily at hand from within your brand or company’s history.

At History Factory, we use methodologies developed over nearly 40 years to help companies turn their unique history into authentic content they can use to validate and differentiate their marketing initiatives. If you’re after ways to increase perceptions and awareness of your authenticity—indeed, if you’re ready to join the authentic content revolution—let’s chat.

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