Sunday, May 4, 2008

in search of authentic

Aki Spicer wrote a great bit on his musings from ROFLCon that really got me thinking. The last bit of his entry asks the reader to consider the future of "authentic". In my estimation, the word has, ostensibly, lost its meaning (much as has "green", "savvy", and "integrated").

Wanting to press a bit more on the topic, I looked up the word (using my MacBook dashboard). I was intrigued, as the first offering reads: "of undisputed origin". That's powerful stuff. Undisputed. Meaning, there can be no mistake about it. However, the watering down and adverspanking of this word is more in line with the second entry: "made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” Sad, really. You can see, this is authenticity’s downfall. Essentially, this second definiton strikes the power of the first one useless. It says “faithfully resembles an original”. Meaning: “yeah, it’s close enough.”

With brands, we’re all telling our clients to “be authentic.” I can even recall telling a brand that one of their core “pillars” should be (you guessed it): Authenticity. In reality, every company should have authenticity at its core. And they all do. Except when they don’t. As company’s grow, expand, or look too much at what, where, and how the competition is doing their thing, brands lose touch with what they’re about. Or, why they were started in the first place. The role Authenticity plays is in what makes them (and this is where you’re BAM SMACK on it, Aki), human. It is the humanness of a brand that makes it an undisputed original.

It’s kind of flawed to suggest a brand should be more human, isn’t it? It’s a bit unfair. What is it that makes (or could make) a brand more human? As planners, our job is to uncover that very truth. We’re not always successful. The more we approach the work with an open and humble sense of curiosity, driving us to discover the answer to that question, the better the result. Open. Humble. Fallible. It’s what makes a planner human. And thus, relatable. And authentic. And successful. (NOTE: if all it took for a planner to be seen as successful were humbleness and fallibility, we’d all be long unemployed. I merely postulate that in addition to a hopefully insightful, trend-fueled, innovative mind, it would only be helpful for a planner to approach each project with a certain willingness to not know the answers and to reduce the abundance of high-falutin’, all-knowing platitudes and condescension that have plagued and tainted the role of the planner – at least in the US.)

So in the end, I think yes, the word authenticity, in its current “close enough to the original” state, is worthless. But, true authenticity is not something that needs to be learned by a brand, it is something that needs to be preserved.
the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)