Everyday we’re bombarded with messages that testify to be the ‘real thing’ from organic fruit and vegetables, to shampoo, music, and travel. Even public figures and celebrities use the label to win us over. Why is authenticity pervasive in popular culture and why do we crave ‘the real’? Why have advertising executives latched on to authenticity as a way to lure us in and does it work?
The short answer is: yes. The long answer is: it’s complicated.
In times of growing political unrest, economic insecurity, and technological advancement, our future in contemporary society seems unpredictable. The destabilization of old certainties, whether they be class, religion, family-ties or state, coupled with the increased movement of people, has resulted in a heightened sense of uncertainty. Authenticity becomes an issue when it is called into question, when a sense of inauthenticity is detected or experienced.
In modern western society, which is increasingly commodified, automated and mediated, life is saturated with toxic levels of inauthenticity. Examples include reality TV shows which are in fact scripted, stores branding themselves as independent when they’re owned by a multinational conglomerate, and sleek photo-shopped images of ‘natural’ women. This leads the public to yearn for the ‘real thing’ in the world around them as well as to seek authenticity in themselves. Authenticity has thus become a highly prevalent feature and concern of modern life.
Corporations and brands have taken notice of this shift and use authenticity as a purposive strategy in their marketing. By conferring authenticity to an object, the consumer is enticed to buy the product by drawing on a broad range of cues that reinforces their desired sense of self. This is a highly effective way of getting us to buy things we don’t really need or want.