Authenticity is a good thing... isn't it? (Part 3)
Updated: May 20
"Authenticity - ‘Being Yourself’ vs. Reality" - Part 3
So what’s all the hype about anyway? Why does everyone want to be authentic?
Well the cynic in me would say it gives people the excuse not to have to conform to any societal norms they don’t like (and before you all come running to roast me, I count myself as one of those folks in Part 2 and I’m not judging anyone harsher than I am myself, if I’m judging at all, which I’m not saying I am, lol).
How does it serve a brand to be considered authentic?
At face value, because people associate authenticity with being a good thing. To be authentic is to be the opposite of fake. And that is often also considered trustworthy because you can believe what they’re telling you.
Brand authenticity has been defined as ‘the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful and true toward itself and its consumers, and to support consumers being true to themselves’.
If we go with the above definition, brand authenticity is a good thing, because the brand’s promise is not only to be true to itself but also true to its consumers, AND what’s more, to support the consumer in being true to themselves. That’s a major promise, really. And I suppose if I think about some of the brands that I follow faithfully, I love them in part because they represent what I want to do/ be/ achieve etc. so perhaps it’s true.
I feel like this is a definition for the ideal case scenario, however, where all stars align perfectly and everybody’s expectations are being fulfilled. It's also much harder to pull off as an individual, because humans are flawed and in general unable to stick to their own principles 100%, no matter how hard they try.
Where it gets interesting is when honesty doesn’t necessarily make you more trustworthy because you’re exposing views or beliefs that an audience may find ‘wrong’ to the degree where they might begin to distrust you as a person, or at least what you stand for and may be trying to achieve in the world.
Generally, you’ll find this applies less to businesses and companies because they’re just less likely to try to cause that much controversy. (While some businesses will honor the concept of ‘their product is not for everyone’ that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d want to antagonize the folks who are not their target audience.)
Think about a public figure whom you can’t help but shake your head about, or maybe it even outright upsets you that they have any kind of public presence. (And if you’re willing, do share whom you thought of in the comments, cause I’m really curious.)
The reason they’re actively public figures and not banished and cancelled to oblivion is because they likely have as large a follower base as they have haters.
Just to stir the pot a bit, here are some examples of such polarizing characters:
Now before y’all come raging. I’m NOT claiming that any of the above names
are similar or to be compared to each other (I would never dream of it)
share the same beliefs or opinions
‘match’ in any way EXCEPT. That they’re all controversial and have throngs of followers and throngs of nay-sayers.
Some of them have had their reputation develop and ‘travel across the poles’, e.g. Rowling, and probably to some degree Musk. Others came out of the gate with strong viewpoints and often their viewpoints were what got them people’s attention in the first place - Thunberg and Tate would likely fall into that category.
An audience grows when they feel validated and empowered that someone who shares their opinions is not afraid to voice them publicly.
Which bring us back to authenticity, and more importantly, the question of whether it’s a good thing or not.
The Implications of Authenticity Trends
The growing upward trend of authenticity in branding and marketing and even in how we live our day-to-day lives must surely be a good thing, when taking the word for what it is, which is being truer to oneself, one's beliefs and values etc. To be non-pretentious and not try to fit into a predefined mould, just because it's the norm, or common practice.
Here's what I wonder about it sometimes, however.
Is a part of this trend that we're also encouraging more polarized opinions as people try to be more authentic by having, and standing by, stronger stances than they might have otherwise?
Hear me out.
One of the characteristics of authenticity is to have at least somewhat defined opinions or stances about the world and how we see it, and ourselves in it. If you haven't decided what is right, or good, or what you want to stand for, how can we measure whether you're being true to yourself? As such, the goal of being authentic generally does not produce lukewarm views.
This can be a good thing when you're self-evaluating what you want out of life and how you can make better choices that are more aligned with how you want to show up in the world. But can it also be a bad thing when it means that everyone's publicly voicing their opinions, and then calling each other out on them?
I'm not saying that this is actually happening. It would be foolish to assume that it's that two-dimensional. BUT. As we enjoy the liberty that comes from championing authenticity I do think it's important to keep in mind that one person's 'true to themselves' might largely align with how you feel, while someone else's may bring out traits and opinions you didn't think were even possible in a human being.