Why Prescribing Brand Authenticity Needs To Stop

There are lots of different formats for creative briefs out there.  We’ve even helped a couple of shops come up with a template for briefs:  what sections need to be completed, how things should be covered, what helps inspire the thinking, what doesn’t, etc.  However, in my experience, nearly all briefs include a section on “tone” or—in industry lingo—tonality.  It’s that section where you wax poetic about how the brand in question should deliver its own message and voice.  It’s usually a handful of adjectives and all too often, the brief writer shoehorns in one that just irks me:  authentic.

I came to this conclusion after reading a recent issue of my alumni magazine.  They profiled a graduate who made her way to Las Vegas and helped launch one of the casino resorts on the strip—a casino that mimics a certain European capital, the one in France.  In the research leading up to the launch, she found that strip-goers wanted authenticity.  Not kidding.  So that meant they made their manufactured replica (and the staged commercials with actors, scenes and scripts) feel like a real imitation, I guess as opposed to a fake imitation.  This, certainly, was to help them stand out from the more disingenuous casino resorts—the ones that emulate Italian cities, Egypt, medieval castles and NYC.

Ad Age recently profiled Kara Goldin, founder of Hint products (they make the bottled water, deodorant and sunscreen with subtle amounts of fruit).  Her story is intriguing but she mentions that when she shares it with other upstart brand leaders, they ask her how they can get an authentic story like the one she has.  Her response deserves a huge gold star.  She tells them, “You’re either authentic or you’re not.”

No one with ethics believes we in the marketing business should be duping consumers but overtly mandating authenticity is something of a misguided over-correction.  By listing authenticity as a part of a brand’s voice, you’re essentially saying to not be fabricated.  Which seems like something that can go without saying.  (Unless you’re Volkswagen Audi, who might need a reminder).