What Consumers Really Want: Authenticity

Traci Warrington (Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 27 June 2008




Warrington, T. (2008), "What Consumers Really Want: Authenticity", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 262-263. https://doi.org/10.1108/07363760810882461



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The concept of authenticity has received increased attention over the last several years as companies and brands seek out ways to be genuine in the eyes of the consumer. A proliferation of packaging and advertisements promising “real, genuine, and authentic” supports that this is what consumers want. But what is authentic? And, how can companies be authentic as perceived by consumers? In Authenticity, Gilmore and Pine research the concept and provide examples and activities companies can use to manage perceived authenticity as an additional way to gain competitive advantage.

Written by the authors of The Experience Economy, Authenticity is an academic journey that defines and applies consumer perceptions of real or fake in the decision‐making process. Managing these perceptions is the central role of the book. “… In a world increasingly filled with deliberately staged experiences – an increasingly unreal world – consumers choose to buy or not buy based on how real they perceive an offering to be” (p. 1).

In chapter 1, the authors review authenticity research and position the concept as a rising star among consumer purchasing criterion. According to the authors, authenticity has overtaken quality as the most important purchasing criterion. The research reviewed includes defining authenticity and the importance of fake vs real in the consumer marketplace.

“The Demand for Authenticity,” chapter 2, explores five key elements driving the demand for authenticity. These key elements include the emergence of the experience economy; the automation of services leading to the increased value of personal service; socially constructed reality created by consumers themselves; the rise of Baby Boomer, who are currently in the authenticity‐seeking stage of their lives; and the failure of institutions such as corporate, educational, political, and religious. The problem‐solution structure of this chapter is useful. Problems are defined and discussed, and potential solutions are offered.

Reality television shows and real‐life exposures are discussed in chapter 3, “The Supply of Inauthenticity.” Everyday exposure to “real” and “fake” is highlighted, and the overuse of “real” is noted through many examples in goods, retail, sports, education, real estate, restaurants, and more. The overuse of the promise of “real” has desensitized consumers to the word and promise. “As folklorist Regina Bendix notes, today so much has been declared authentic that the scarcity value is evaporating: once tomato sauce carries the label ‘authentic,’ the designation loses its special significance. It's worse than that – the very act of proclaiming oneself to be real leads almost inexorably to the perception of being fake” (p. 43). Three axioms of authenticity are offered based on the above observation:

  1. 1.

    “Axiom 1: If you are authentic, then you don't have to say you're authentic.”

  2. 2.

    “Axiom 2: If you say you're authentic, then you'd better be authentic.”

  3. 3.

    “Axiom 3: It's easier to be authentic if you don't say you're authentic” (p. 44).

Chapter 4, “Rendering Authenticity,” applies economic theory offered in the authors' last book – The Experience Economy – to set the stage for the need for authenticity. The commoditization of the economy and the downward pressure on prices has moved to devalue goods. Gilmore and Pine frame five types of authenticity based on the economy: natural authenticity, original authenticity, exceptional authenticity, referential authenticity, and influential authenticity. Each of the five is discussed in detail with relevant examples. The authors note that organizations can use one or all given genres of authenticity.

“Fake, Fake, It's All Fake,” chapter 5, notes that “there is no such thing as an inauthentic experience – because experiences happen inside of us; they are our internal reaction to the events unfolding around us” (p. 81). As such, the authors discuss that there is no perfectly authentic experience, even those in nature, and that it is alright to be fake as long as you are true to yourself (your company/brand). The chapter is full of examples, and adds two axioms to the three previously mentioned.

  1. 1.

    “Axiom 4: it's easier to render offerings authentic, if you acknowledge they're inauthentic.”

  2. 2.

    “Axiom 5: you don't have to say your offerings are inauthentic, if you render them authentic” (p. 90).

“The Real/Fake Reality” in chapter 6 tests organizations against two criteria: being true to itself and being who it says it is. Based on these two criteria, the authors created the real/fake matrix, which identifies four modes of authenticity – real fake, real real, fake fake, and fake real. The remainder of the chapter explains and provides examples of each of the four modes, followed by advice on how to be successful in each of the areas.

“Deconstructing Authenticity,” Chapter 7, provides a framework for the reader to assess their own business to discover their own state of authenticity. By examining who they are and what they say they are, companies can use the authenticity matrix to create a differentiation strategy.

“You must treat the places you create as distinct experiences that engage your customers and create memories within them – not as mere marketing exercises that all too often diminish the perception of authenticity” (p. 153). From “Marketing to Placemaking,” chapter 8 focuses on being what you say you are. Many examples are used to highlight good and bad examples of the concept. The authors examine the idea of “places” and creating experiences within those places that coincide with the communications about those places and experiences. Places discussed include flagship locations, experience hubs, major venues, derivative presence, worldwide markets, as well as virtual placemaking. This chapter highlights the importance of the place in the experience and the necessity of coordinating all placemaking experiences throughout the portfolio.

Chapter 9 focuses on “Being True to Self.” Eight principles are offered to assess one's here and now space. These eight principles include studying your heritage, ascertaining your positioning, locating your trajectory, knowing your limits, zooming in your zone, scanning your periphery, affixing the future, and executing well. Chapter 10 – “Finding Authenticity” – looks at how to identify the right path for your business. The real‐fake continuum is discussed, as is the polarity of real and fake. The chapter brings the reader through the process of creating a strategic path to desired authenticity.

Authenticity examines the historical evolution of the concept of authenticity in an academic manner, providing models of authenticity for use by organizations. Although Authenticity may seem an academic work full of historical research, varying definitions, and economic models, the authors are quick to provide appropriate and current examples of the concepts presented. The problem‐solution approach taken in several chapters is refreshing and provides corporate executives the opportunity to use the information presented to take action to build upon the authenticity concept.

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