A decade or so ago, the concept of authenticity in relation to business, people, and brands became quite popular. And apart from not liking things being hyped, I also do not like thoughtless parroting of concepts without giving it a good think first.

The meaning of authenticity

The word authenticity runs the same risk as quality. When we talk about quality, everyone implies GOOD quality. When authenticity is discussed, everyone implies that this is a good thing. But authenticity isn’t necessarily good. Nor does it mean good.

The word authenticity – like quality – doesn’t automatically have a positive meaning. A meaning given by Merriam-Webster is real or genuine. Being authentic means being real. But real things can be ugly or mean or negative; an ugly house, or dress, or logo. It applies to people too. Some people are pure evil. Other people just have a bad day every now and then, and their dark side is part of their authentic self as is their good side.

Authenticity and brands

A brand can be a product brand like Coke, but a brand can also equal a business or organization. Think about Amazon or the Olympics. A brand can also be a person. A singer like Madonna or a business person like Richard Branson.

Talking about brands being authentic and looking at organizational brands, there are a lot of organizational brands  out there, that are very authentic brands. They are successful by their own standards, but they aren’t necessarily good for us. I think of Al Qaeda, IRA, ETA, the mafia, street gangs etc.

These groups are authentic in the sense that they are true to their values. They have a strong culture and they have hangers-on who share their values. They would qualify as an authentic brand. However, it makes clear that being authentic doesn’t say anything about the intrinsic value of that authenticity. So authenticity by itself has no positive meaning and neither does the term authentic brand.

So what happens if you apply this to personal brands? The Kardashians are probably true to their values. And if they are true to them, that makes the Kardashians authentic. But I don’t think their values are what people mean when talking about being authentic as a good thing.  Not necessarily a bad thing either, but being authentic only means that you live by your values. If your values are rotten, authenticity can never have a positive meaning.

Authenticity or integrity?

I think people confuse the concept of authenticity with integrity. Think about it. Would you rather have business brands or personal  brands act with integrity or with authenticity if the latter is negative?

What would you want your brand to be?

By Pepita Bos