The Trouble with Authenticity

The concept of Authenticity has been trendy with brands and marketers for some time now. This totally makes sense; we are all better when brands and people are their authentic selves. The problem is, not every brand or everyone is TRULY authentic and that’s where the rub comes in.

To be truly authentic, you need to be comfortable sharing who you are, warts and all, not just a manicured view of what authentic should be. Manufacturing authenticity can put brands and people alike in a place where it can take a long time to recover trust, if ever. The North Face and Fairlife offer some recent examples of the very real perils of manufacturing authenticity.

In May of this year, The North Face (TNF) placed branded images surreptitiously on Wikipedia to improve its brand awareness in search queries – a clear violation of Wikipedia’s community guidelines and a breach of trust in many ways. The backlash was quick and the images were removed, but TNF was left with a black eye, and we could ask whether they truly followed their “true north” beliefs authentically.

Then in June, Fairlife, the milk brand that was formed by a veterinarian and Coca-Cola in 2012 with claims of adhering to higher standards of animal care through sustainable farming, was exposed for animal abuse in graphic videos from one of its Indiana farms. Anybody would certainly be right to call Fairlife’s claim to enrich lives by sustainably providing nourishment and vitality to the world into question now.

Both TNF and Fairlife have since published statements on these matters.

Now, these may be extreme cases and certainly animal abuse is far more concerning than manipulating Wikipedia, but both events demonstrated that those brands played fast and loose with their authenticity claims and will certainly pay the price for some period of time.

On the other hand, I remember when Patagonia first introduced the Footprint Chronicles in 2007. It was an honest and transparent view of their supply chain and showed where they had made great progress and where they still had issues on sourcing materials in an environmentally friendly way. They continue to be transparent in what they are doing to this day and have earned consumer’s trust through this and other brand experiences.

The point is, to be truly authentic, you need to be willing to go all in. Share your intentions. Be bold. But share your struggles and challenges too. Be human. There will be slip ups. But how you handle them will make all the difference.

Read more Perspectives from our CEO and Owner John Kadlic on our blog, here

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