Every brand can be authentic

In a society where plastic and online experiences
dominate, many a consumer has started to look
for ‘genuine’ products. Authenticity is the keyword.
Gilmore and Pine devoted a book to this subject
as early as in 2007, but there has not been much
‘hard’ research into it since. Research shows that
the perception of authenticity can differ from one
consumer to the next, depending on their brand
perception. It turned out that even a brand like McDonald’s could be perceived
as authentic...

Beverland and Farrelly argue that mass-market brands, such as Nike, Coca-
Cola, McDonald’s and Marlboro, are not easily perceived as authentic or ‘genu-
ine’ by consumers. That is down to fact that these brand come across as con-
structed or artificial. And yet consumers can still start perceiving such brands as
‘authentic’ at one point. All of that is tied to how consumers realise their con-
sumer-identity goals: the way in which a consumer sees himself and thinks
about himself.

These researchers identified three categories of consumer-identity goals: (1)
the wish to be in control, (2) the wish to be ‘connected’ with others, and (3) the
wish to act as per a certain set of morals (ethically ‘right’). In their attempt to
meet these goals, consumers will look for brands that fit these goals. A brand
that is aligned with the favoured identity goal is then perceived as authentic.

A consumer looking to be in control will not perceive McDonald’s as authentic.
Simply because it is widely perceived to be a purveyor of fattening and un-
healthy food. In other cases, the same person might still consider McDonald’s
authentic, namely when he/she is driven by another primary goal. If this person,
for example, feels the need to be ‘connected’ to others, McDonald’s can ‘sud-
denly’ be perceived as a genuine, authentic brand. Simply because McDonald’s
is a meeting place for people.

In essence, these researchers found that consumers tend to project their per-
sonal drivers onto brands. They therefore conclude that authenticity is not de-
rived from rational product features, but rather from mental, creative processes
that are often hard to predict.

Beverland, M.B., Farrelly, F.J. (2010), The quest for authenticity in consump-
tion: consumers’ purposive choice of authentic cues to shape experienced
outcomes. Journal of Consumer Research, vol.36, no.5, p.838-856. *

* : Available in the EURIB library.

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