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The Quest for Authenticity in Consumption

Consumers’ Purposive Choice of Authentic
Cues to Shape Experienced Outcomes
Drawing from image-elicited depth interviews, we investigate whether consumers
pursue the consumption of authentic objects with specific personal goals in mind.
We find that consumers are motivated to focus on those particular cues in objects
that for them convey authenticity (what is genuine, real, and/or true) and that this
decision-making process is driven by a desire to draw different identity benefits
(control, connection, virtue) from authentic objects. Our interpretive analysis elaborates contributions to theorizing related to consumer agency in seeking authentic
consumption experience. We provide cultural explanations for the desire to assert
the authentic self in these particular ways.


he nature of authenticity in consumption is contested.
Researchers explain authenticity as original and staged
(MacCannell 1973), fabricated (Belk and Costa 1998), iconic,
indexical, and hypothetical (Grayson and Martinec 2004), selfreferential hyperauthenticity (Rose and Wood 2005), symbolic
(Culler 1981), existential (Wang 1999), literal or objective
(Beverland, Lindgreen, and Vink 2008), legitimate (Kates
2004), sincere (Beverland 2006), approximate and moral
(Leigh, Peters, and Shelton 2006), and emergent (Cohen
1988). Differences also emerge as to the nature of the objects
(or cues) that can convey authenticity. For example, authenticity has been identified in the patently fake (Brown 2001),
obvious reproductions (Bruner 1994), and mundane massmarket objects (Miller 2008), while others consider such examples the very antithesis of authenticity (Eco 1986).
What can account for such difference in conceptualizations,
objects, and cues? Our findings help to explain this diversity
by demonstrating that the process of authenticating an object

or experience is contingent on the consumer’s goals. In doing
so, we extend previous research identifying the relationship
between goals and authenticating acts (“self-referential behaviors that reveal or produce the true self”; Arnould and
Price 2000, 8), a focus on sincerity of intent in defining an
authentic member of a subculture (Belk and Costa 1998;
Leigh et al. 2006), the relationship between shifting community goals and the nature of brand authenticity (Kates
2004), and the active information processing strategies employed to find authenticity in the less likely of objects such
as reality television (Rose and Wood 2005) and fictional tourist sites (Grayson and Martinec 2004). Rose and Wood (2005)
note that much may be gleaned by better understanding how
“personal predilections” shape the way authenticity is constructed. To this end we seek to account for what constitutes
authenticity by examining how goals underpin assessments
of authenticity including the purposive strategies employed
by consumers to achieve this assessment.
This article has the following structure. First, we provide
support for the relationship between consumer goals and
authenticity through a brief review of the relevant literature. Second, we outline the interpretive methods employed to address our research objectives. Third, we present our findings and identify three goals underpinning
self-relevant assessments of authenticity (control, connection, and virtue). We also provide a sociocultural account
for these findings and identify four strategies employed by
consumers when conferring authenticity to an object. We
conclude the article with a discussion of theoretical contributions and suggestions for future research.

*Michael B. Beverland is professor of marketing, School of Economics,
Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, GPO Box 2476V, Melbourne, VIC
3001, Australia (;
Francis Farrelly is associate professor of marketing, Department of Marketing,
Monash University, Caulfield East, VIC 3145, Australia (francis.farrelly@ The authors contributed equally and are listed in
alphabetical order. We thank Kay Laochumanvanit for technical assistance
and the Australian Research Council (ARC-DP0985178) for financial support.
Thanks also to Tandy Chalmers, Carla Taines, Kelly Tian, the editors, and
three reviewers for feedback on earlier versions of this article.
John Deighton served as editor and Eric Arnould served as associate editor
for this article.
Electronically published August 19, 2009

䉷 2009 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. ● Vol. 36 ● February 2010
All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2010/3605-0011$10.00. DOI: 10.1086/615047


The notion that assessments of authenticity in objects are
underpinned by consumer goals is based on the notion that
consumers actively seek authenticity to find meaning in their
lives, and in line with associated personal goals (self-relevant objectives people pursue in their daily lives; Emmons
2005) prefer brands and experiences that reinforce their desired identity (or identities). Arnould and Price (2000) offer
insight into why such goals have become a critical part of
the authentication process. They establish that the loss of
traditional sources of meaning and self-identity associated
with postmodern market characteristics (caused by globalization, deterritorialization, and hyperreality) has encouraged consumers to become active and adept in appropriating
Often described in terms of a “search” or “quest,” the
desire for authenticity is also said to be a response to
standardization and homogenization in the marketplace
(Thompson, Rindfleisch, and Arsel 2006). Arnould and
Price (2000) identify two means of appropriating authenticity to achieve self-authentication. The first is where the
consumer cocreates product value or a consumption experience as part of self-authentication (an authenticating act).
The second, described as authoritative performance, is a
cultural display (such as rituals, festivals, or protest actions)
representative of a social unit (e.g., family, affinity group,
profession, and ethnic group) and what the consumer deems
are important aspects of life. Common to both is that the
consumer is purposeful in linking the object or experience
to stories of the self.
There is widespread agreement that authenticity is a socially constructed interpretation of the essence of what is
observed rather than properties inherent in an object (Beverland 2006; Beverland et al. 2008; Grayson and Martinec
2004; Rose and Wood 2005; Thompson et al. 2006). Consistent with goal-driven behavior, the essence of what is
observed can represent who one desires to be (Cohen 1988;
Culler 1981; Ferrara 1988; Postrel 2003), a personal point
of view (Wang 1999), knowledge and expectations (Belk
and Costa 1998; Holt 1998) including a person’s need to
match the object with their idea of how it should be (Grayson
and Martinec 2004), and belief systems and stereotypes
(Bruner 1994; Rose and Wood 2005). The link between
goals and authenticity is also evident across the literature
on subcultures of consumption and brand communities with
respect to the consumer’s purposeful efforts to participate
and gain status (such as consuming the “right” brand or
engaging in legitimate behavior; Kates 2004; Leigh et al.
2006; Quester, Beverland, and Farrelly 2006).
Bruner (1994) and numerous others (Arnould and Price
2000; Chronis and Hampton 2008; Leigh et al. 2006; Postrel
2003; Rose and Wood 2005; Wang 1999) have pointed out
that the meaning given to authenticity is context and goal
dependent. Different interpretations of authenticity are often
a by-product of the personal goals that influence which prop-


erties of a context are uniquely identified as significant and
relevant. In the case of the New Salem site Bruner discusses,
some visitors gave preferential treatment to nostalgia for a
simpler bygone era. For others authenticity was conferred
if the site catalyzed ideas around progress. The goals that
distinguish the curator from the merchandise seller, the family, or the teacher who brings students to the site for educational purposes underpin different interpretations of what
is authentic.
It has also been demonstrated that the conferring of authenticity to an object involves conscious negotiation or
production of meaning, including the active use of brand
cues. For example, Beverland et al. (2008) consider the
relationship between different levels of goals (from situational to identity based) and the degree to which consumers
actively scrutinize brand materials. When confronted with
the need to make quick decisions about the authenticity of
a class of beer, for example, consumers reduce claims to a
few verifiable indexical cues (see also Chronis and Hampton
2008). When seeking long-term identity goals such as supporting local communities, consumers drew on a broader
range of cues to actively construct a sense of authenticity
that reinforced their desired sense of self. Leigh et al.’s
(2006) study of the MG brand community identifies the
creative use of cues among community members when assessing the authenticity of members. In this case, community
members overlook breaches of indexicality (such as modern
adaptations to historic sports cars and the use of nonstandard
or original parts) and focus on cues that signal the sincerity
of the owner’s efforts to maintain public awareness of the
Two recent studies demonstrate how consumers actively
find authenticity in seemingly fake or contrived objects. Rose
and Wood (2005) reveal how consumers actively negotiate
the paradox between the subjectively real and the contrived
or fantastic to find authenticity in reality television. Underpinning our view that goals influence assessments of authenticity is the observation that Rose and Wood’s (2005) informants were as likely to value the contrived elements of reality
television shows as the connections to personal reality because
both facilitated purposeful efforts to establish authenticity.
Grayson and Martinec (2004) establish that consumers purposefully blend fact and fiction to authenticate objects such
as the so-called historical residence of a fictional character
Sherlock Holmes. In doing so, these consumers actively construct authenticity because they are motivated to realize associated benefits, such as a sense of escape (from the phoniness associated with modern life), feelings of assuredness
(based on perceived evidence that what one believes in is
real), and connection with the past (cf. Rose and Wood 2005).
Significantly, despite the multiplicity of terms and interpretations applied to authenticity, ultimately what is consistent
across the literature is that authenticity encapsulates what is
genuine, real, and/or true (Arnould and Price 2000; Bendix
1992; Berger 1973; Costa and Bamossy 1995; Thompson et
al. 2006). And, as others have highlighted, consumers do not
find authenticity in the fake but rather are able to find elements

tourist sites. provide more explanation for the experiences. income. and it is here that much is to be gained from an exploration of the nature and role of personal goals and their cultural underpinnings. These techniques were particularly useful in facilitating informants to articulate their views of authenticity (cf. local and foreign brands (new and old versions where relevant). we adopted an interpretative approach. To stimulate further discussion. Belk. or true in consumption experiences or objects that others may deem to be altogether unreal or false (Grayson and Martinec 2004. and cultural icons such as sporting paraphernalia. Our primary data were derived from semistructured depth interviews with 21 informants (see table 1 for details). To facilitate articulation of unconscious meanings and motivations. What needs to be better understood is how these different interpretations come into being. and educational background in order to gain a rich range of experiences and insights into views of authenticity. we developed a file of around 100 images. This enrichment occurred because of the availability of prompts and the noninvasive nature of the interviewing and because informants relaxed as they told their stories. informants were asked to elaborate on various statements they made. asking for clarification on certain terms and every so often summarizing informant responses or views. including brands and events. The authors asked a mix of grand tour questions and floating prompts (McCracken 1988). and Askegaard 2003). pictures. further prompts were used to understand the significance of such events. historic figures/events and artifacts. refined. Although the interviews were broad and only semistructured. real. objects. Rose and Wood 2005). TABLE 1 INFORMANT DETAILS Informant Age Andrew Anita Bernard Caroline John Judy Kate Louise Mario Meg Michael Nick Phil Renee Ross Rowena Sandra Scott Tony William Zoe 31 27 39 54 37 51 46 30 30 32 55 28 40 23 60 33 37 33 53 61 38 Family status Single Married Single Single Single Married Married Single Married Married Married Single Married Single Married Single Married Single Married Single Single Educational background Profession Trade certificate High school High school Postgraduate Trade certificate High school Undergraduate Postgraduate High school Postgraduate Postgraduate Postgraduate Undergraduate High school Postgraduate High school High school Postgraduate Undergraduate Postgraduate High school Credit controller Accounts Upholsterer High school teacher Truck driver Customer service Administrator Human resources manager Business owner Financial analyst Retiree Accountant Surveyor Customer service support Managing director Temping Hospitality worker Channel manager Plant supervisor Chemical engineer Sales assistant . Ger. Since the informants would often approach this question with personal stories or experiences. Informants were asked to discuss three brands they thought were authentic and three they considered inauthentic. people. Interviews lasted on average 2 hours. gender. Both authors conducted all interviews. or memorabilia reflective of important experiences and favored (hated) objects.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 840 of what is genuine. Informants selected these from their own experience or from the image file discussed earlier. These images were made available to informants at the interview after they had discussed their own objects. We used a recruitment agency to locate informants. with the researchers only engaging in floating prompts (following the initial grand tour question). METHODS As we are working within the meaning-based tradition of research. advertisements and brands they referred to. informants were asked to think about the general meaning of authenticity to them. informants spoke for virtually the entire period. Given this method. we focused on commercial objects. and in some cases altered their view during the interview in a spirit of joint discovery and critical reflexivity. At the beginning of the interview. and they often enriched. The informants sometimes struggled initially to define authenticity. which were held in the informants’ homes. Following a general discussion of authenticity and authentic experiences. we asked informants to have at hand possessions. and we instructed the agency to provide a diverse sample in terms of age. Long interviews allowed access to consumers’ firsthand personal experiences and meanings associated with authenticity and inauthenticity. The choice of items was informed by the literature on authenticity. including pictures of day-to-day life. and elaborate on the personal relevance of the subject matter.

control is an end-state (whereby consumers seek to be “in control”. Feeling in Control The first account of authenticity related to agency and the desire of informants to achieve mastery over their environment (see also Leigh et al. Hochschild (1983) observed airline cabin crew sometimes engaging in small rulebreaking actions to regain a sense of control over their work. we interviewed one more informant to further explore situations where consumers dealt with conflict between different goals. and events. We first read the transcripts and conducted our own interpretation before meeting to discuss the findings in more detail. brands. we noted that participants’ comments suggested benefits. moving back and forward between our findings and the relevant literature to deepen our understanding of the nature of authenticity and the processes by which consumers assess objects and the underlying goals involved (cf. Extending this line of research. AND EXPERIENCES (OBE) although several lasted considerably longer. VALUED IDENTITY BENEFITS OF SELFAUTHENTICATION: FEELINGS OF CONTROL. A summary of the findings is provided in figure 1. 2006). or experiences. and virtue (each desired benefit reflected wider sociocultural norms). Informants were also active in applying standards and information-processing strategies to cues when assessing authenticity. connection. the desire for self-authentication). these identity benefits were a reflection of the interpretation of what was considered genuine. as well as the critical need to look beyond assessment of the object to more fully appreciate the meaning of authenticity (Rose and Wood 2005). Importantly. Both authors analyzed the transcripts. BRANDS. and/or true. objects.THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION 841 FIGURE 1 AUTHENTICATING OBJECTS. CONNECTION. and motivations and that these factors underpinned their attraction to cues conveying an object’s authenticity.e. As a final step. When conferring authenticity to commercial objects such as experiences. Importantly... AND VIRTUE Our findings highlight the inseparable link between determinations of authenticity and informant personal goals (i. Spiggle 1994). In our close readings of the textual data. our informants realized positive identity benefits in the form of a favorable characterization of the true self. standards. Three distinct personally relevant benefits (also referred to herein as goals) were evident across our cases (table 2 provides summary details): control. theoretical categories were elaborated on during open and axial coding procedures. Richins 2005) rather than a process. such actions were driven by a desire to reaffirm work role authenticity).e.200 pages of text. resulting in over 2. Our initial classification involved establishing the links between life stories and judgments of authenticity and whether these transferred to objects. In this sense. Hochschild’s research identified that these workers were seeking control in order to reaffirm their identity as professional skilled individuals (i. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. whether in the case of brands. real. At this point. We then began a process of dialectical tacking. a number of informant passages associated authenticity with feeling a sense of personal .

when consumers seek to be in control. I mean. in knowing what you are about and making choices even with surf brands—I mean why buy Quiksilver or Volcom or Ripcurl just because it is the brand of today that supposedly carries the cool factor. Tony: I’m getting towards the end of my working life where I have managed to be able to achieve and accumulate like wealth. For Phil. That’s authentic? Phil: Surfing has taught me lots of things like persistence because it takes ages and because it is up to you to keep improving all the time for yourself. careful analysis. William also desires to retain control over his consumption decisions by refusing to accept marketer claims at face value. For example. you might go with your mates but once you are out there it is just you. maybe because it helps to be better in the water. my car. Tony draws a connection between sustained effort over many years and the authenticity of his objects. these brand choices represent an authenticating act (Arnould and Price 2000). Interviewer: And anything else? Tony: Realistic I suppose is authentic. Achievement in surfing requires persistent effort and dedication. so Tony appreciates the need to set realistic goals in other life events. a vision as something that I have that I aspire to. value in use). Rowena. When you turn around and say authentic brands. which becomes authentic. and I like it like that because . Meg’s desire for control over her diabetes forces her to review mandatory ingredient labeling on food products. So that sort of covers everything. quality perceptions. Michael views an Apple computer as authentic because it empowers him and others to engage in tasks they could not normally manage. For example. . to other aspects of life. Instead. Tony plays a central role in shaping events for his benefit. For example: Interviewer: What do you mean cynical? Tony: Well. For example: Interviewer: Your picture of surfing. preferring to select brands that help him achieve personal mastery. Like several of our informants Phil merged his notion of what was real (including surfing experiences and buying brands and products) with a conception of self associated with self-improvement and self-reliance through personal achievement and informed choices. authenticity is a checking process. easyto-use computer) thus allows Michael to achieve mastery over events. . . Tony transfers the lessons gained from a character-forming activity (in this case engineering). as you say. are the physical manifestation of his mastery over his environment.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 842 control over their surroundings and life in general. they desire personal sovereignty (the exclusive right to control oneself) over consumption choices and prefer objects and experiences that help realize associated benefits. Consistent with this desire for independent judgment and empowerment. Although one can receive coaching and guidance. It’s things that you could turn round and say. As a result. Phil rejects social influences such as fashion or peer pressure. almost a shrine to your life. standing alone in surfing is authentic because it provides lessons for success in other activities such as business decisions and consumption choices. a realistic goal . because I studied and I was diligent I was able to achieve these things. you rely on your abilities. for example. including consumption choices (see his passage on ING below). buy it because you reckon it’s good for you. . you know. and that becomes a part of the history of my life. For example: Tony: First of all authenticity is not a mistake . where personal application was central to success. In cases where functional claims could only be experienced through use. Objects. Tony associates authenticity with deliberate choices. Apple (selected over other computers because Michael views this brand as being first to market with a mass-market. Just as Phil identifies authenticity through the application of qualities unique to the individual (knowledge. brands were judged authentic only after personal experience of the reputed benefits (i. The mastery evident in Phil’s and Tony’s passages was also central in other accounts of consumption—as noted in table 2. Interviewer: Checking process? Tony: I mean to determine whether something is authentic or not you need to be able to test the system. claims that are relevant to the offer (in this case the relationship between country-of-origin. and price) are subjected to further examination. and realistic expectations.e. I tend to get cynical about advertising and brands. I don’t know.. This says something about you that is real and as I say I use this outside of surfing too in my work and that is absolutely real to me anyway. . Interviewer: Right. Interviewer: So why are they authentic? Tony: Because it’s a realistic achievement. Like Phil. mastery of the activity is self-determined. Interviewer: What do you mean by realistic? Tony: It’s a realistic achievement. generally I would say a product that’s not built by huge massive ad- . that I know that I can get. Overall. And it is good. which in turn results in increased mental and physical effort on her behalf (one-and-a-half hour shopping trips) and in the choice of brands like Yoplait that she knows from personal experience have no physical side effects. desires the “genuine article” in order to retain control over her health. . such as his house and car. my home. No coaches. And that lesson and experience is the most authentic thing of all that you carry with you. the informants focused on performance claims when assessing the authenticity of a brand. just as an engineer achieves mastery over nature and materials through the careful application of theory to reality and an understanding of tolerances. As well. possessions. experience and skill).

. or to society in general. For example: Scott: I was in Egypt and I had a guide who was local . I live in St. and action. so the authenticity of the tour feels something a bit different than if you had an Australian trying to take that tour. For example. and culture because such activities represented a higher ideal—that of valuing fellowship within a community. Thus. Throughout his interview. It is really important. If it doesn’t. Scott: I think it’s the knowledge of the person. Interviewer: And you can prove it? Tony: Yes. there is talk that one of the local surf shops outlets wants to sponsor it. whiz bang. It’s clear. These informant accounts expressed a distinct preference for brands that represented a means to experience connection. . and it says a lot about people in the area and how surfing brings people together . meaning that you do not feel like you’re three or four degrees of separation. then okay it’s achieved my objective in purchasing it. provide him with information critical to establishing the truth as to what is the best brand. In their accounts of connection. I’m a smarter person for going to ING. This desire to be part of something with like-minded others is what Relph (1976) refers to as existential insidedness. a travel perspective is that you’re enveloped by the experience. This idealization of community and participation in communal life (as a means of ensuring continuity) is identified in Zoe’s passage below: Zoe: There is a surf school and ongoing events like small local surf competitions and get-togethers and that is very real for me. do you think? Tony: This sort of might indicate what I’m saying. So getting the authentic feel of being wherever you are . informants repeatedly mentioned places. I go before work. So I think it needs to be very honest in terms of what it can deliver. so it’s a fairly social sport”) reinforces his desired self as someone who plays a part in the community. But it’s not telling me that. who is an experienced cyclist and part of the St. The brand focuses on “what matters” in relation to banking—interest rates. . so I think it’s the culture and understanding and feeling of being Egyptian that would give it the authenticity of traveling through the pyramids . In each passage above. so you only feel like you’re two degrees away. events. the performance benefits of Meg’s shampoo must be experienced directly. and being proximate to like-minded others—consistent with the desire to develop an authentic self as an active member of the community. It’s advertised by showing me exactly what the product does. which is good because they see the need to keep it going too. There’s large groups. personal enrichment through being part of something. The ING brand has particular value to Tony because the espoused claims. Melbourne. By engaging in this relatively grueling ride. then I won’t buy it again. place. . that’s right. where individuals relate to a place or a community event as though they are inside it. about 5:30. For example (see table 2). You can tell it does this and this. Interviewer: Right. . cycling fraternity (“I do maybe three days per week. Meg also desires information that conveys just the core benefit of the brand. okay. On my computer I switch it on and I get that ING will give me 5. having a local guide relay the nature of place to him enabled him to come the closest that he could to understanding what it really means to be Egyptian. You know what I mean? It’s stark. people. Kilda. Key benefits associated with feeling connected were an idealization of community.25%. to community. For example. in a way you’re with that one other person. . how much are you going to give me? Meg reports: I’d say they’re [brands] authentic in terms of what they’re trying to promote. informants related authenticity to functional performance benefits and thus desired factual information because it enabled them to make informed decisions. I suppose. it is enriched to a point where you feel like you’re part of it. I could have the knowledge of Egypt but I’m not Egyptian. so . Kilda. Central to this account of authenticity was a strong preference for proximity to place. And it narrows the gap between me and somebody who has lived there all their lives. Funnily enough. I can just go up to the Commonwealth Bank and say. community.25% interest. and tradition as part of their identity. rather than being advertising puffery. you don’t feel that far away from it. lights. cameras. who might not know each other but all want to be there for the same reasons. while Scott was touring Egypt. It’s not giving me any other reason to invest my money in them than the fact that I get 5. . Meg prefers marketers to make realistic claims that address practical problems (“frizz control”) that she can confirm through experience. Nick. However. if the shampoo says it will ease frizz control in your hair and it does. Interviewer: So what creates that authentic feeling. .THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION 843 vertising dollars. . but until I try the product I’ll never know that. Feeling Connected A second account of authenticity discussed by our informants related to a feeling of being connected to important others. Scott states his desire to be personally enriched by connection to place and to have locals reflect back to him what it means to be part of a particular society. Central to Scott’s account of his travels is his preference for proximity to local people. the authenticity in. It is a great way for the kids to learn a great outdoor sport but just to experience life in a community and getting together with the . So I think it’s the proof in the pudding. culture. . being part of the local cycling community and participating in a fund-raising ride (Around the Bay in a Day) is real for Nick because it connects him with like-minded others. unlike interest rates. you know. so there’s a fairly big cycling culture down there.

and community Nick: On Sunday. . Interviewer: How does it fit to authenticity? Nick: Well as I said everyone’s there because they want to be there and they feel right into it. . Marlboro. . why are they saying it? Like Swiss watches. so something that is authentic has to be popular and recognized more? John: Yes.TABLE 2 ELEMENTS OF INFORMANTS’ AUTHENTICITY GOALS Goal Control Definition Mastery of self and environment Informant exemplars Interviewer: So what does a brand need to be authentic? Rowena: A name you would know and trust like Yoplait yoghurt. if you like. It is authentic because the people that are there are there because they want to be there. . Virtue Being true to a set of moral values Caroline: I think it springs from selflessness. Like if you don’t think about yourself all the time and you act authentically you are looking outwards rather than inwards. More accurately as well. they’re not able to market their products like they used to be able to so therefore people stop taking notice of these companies. Interviewer: How is that authentic? Caroline: For me authentic behavior is behavior that is worthwhile and moral and honest. and it’s just a whole day experience. . you’re riding with people. particularly foodwise because I’ve got diabetes. It’s been able to allow us to achieve things that we would never have been able to achieve. Interviewer: Okay. culture. You see them all around the world in advertising. . . Winfield. William: When you see something and they say it’s authentic most people look with skepticism. Nike have been implicated in some pretty awful things and child labor and making shoes at low cost and then selling them for an exorbitant price. . Interviewer: Why? John: Because the companies are not allowed to advertise as much anymore so people aren’t as aware of these products as much because it’s not in their face all of the time. .” That was a great experience because the objective of it is to raise funds for the Smith Family so it’s a good cause as well. otherwise it loses its image. talking with people the whole way. . but now you can buy Swiss watches which weren’t made in Switzerland. there’s no place for their products. Interviewer: So what part of the brand has become inauthentic? John: The advertising of it. definitely. Michael: Apple computer. . That was the only downer but you can’t expect anything more than that. Interviewer: So authentic includes things humans cannot do by ourselves? Michael: Not so much can’t do by ourselves but certainly can’t do as quickly. They’ve become very much inauthentic at the moment because obviously for health reasons. I was in an event “Around the Bay in a Day. So it gives us a greater view of the world. time and place. Interviewer: Because of what they did? John: No. At the end you sit around and talk to people and you tell stories or whatever. so it’s quite a big event. if you know what I mean. Interviewer: How is that authentic? Michael: That authenticates the ability to retain and develop our knowledge. whereas I look at it to say. Connection Relating to others. It is the whole event because there’s so many people doing it and you’re passing people. although we had to wait for a ferry for 2 hours. The reach for the stars. There’s a feeling of realness. not because they’re supposed to be or they’re putting on a front. William: But they’re trying to use the Swiss name to get that image and genuineness. so I would think that they are an inauthentic brand. Interviewer: Why? John: They’re legendary cigarette manufacturers. Interviewer: Any brands in particular? John: Benson and Hedges. Interviewer: What is it about Yoplait? Is authenticity important when buying something? Rowena: It’s important to me. You are not doing things for your own sake or your own self. There were about 9. . It feels right because people are there because they want to be. The Swiss watch industry gained reputation for being the most accurate. . of course. . See.000 people that did it. . . . loses its authenticity. . . . . I don’t think it’s because of what they did. It was very well run. so I’ve got to be careful with what I eat. . Interviewer: Okay.

this loss of status is not due to the health risks associated with cigarettes but to consensus in the community that the advertising of such products should be banned. Interviewer: Employment practices? Renee: They’ve made a lot of money partly because they’re authentic but at the same time they are paying low wages and they do a lot of exploitation as well. the surf school and local surf events fostered shared values. So I went to the market. Louise sought an item that would connect her back to place and her memories of friends made there. This object connects her back to a place and time she values and would signal to other expatriates and Londoners insider knowledge. you know. these brands are no longer real because they do not play a visible part in community affairs as they did when they were sponsors of major sporting events. I’d been living there for about 5 years—and I wanted to buy something that reminded me of my experience in London. Louise selects something that reflects her almost insider status (i. and I didn’t want anything too materialistic. and I really wanted to buy something that reminded me—I was about to leave London. potentially allowing her to form connections with them. As a result. or the barbecue trolley) symbolizes the importance given to unity and having as a common objective the desire to connect (with members of the community) and the positive socialization of the children.e. When seeking an object that connected her back to her time in London. Adding weight to the power of these events as authoritative performances is their widespread support as evidenced by how long they have been in existence. because it’s promoting certain values through what it is. And the little things like that make these things a community and that is important for us here and why it is a great place to live. typical tourist items). In Zoe’s passage. it is often the centerpiece after all the surfing is done. For example: Louise: I bought a bracelet that was very authentic. Interviewer: It’s the Barbie doll. Interviewer: So what was it about that bracelet? Louise: I was in London and I went down to my favorite market. One of the guys made a big barbecue trolley that we wheel around. other parents and kids and pitching in to make sure something like this runs. Interviewer: So that values make it inauthentic? Judy: They promote a kind of an ideal of how girls should look. important local events represented an authoritative performance (Arnould and Price 2000) in the way they enabled characterization of a self that sought to celebrate and sustain community. John evaluates them as historic icons that are now no longer viewed as authentic. The value attached to being a part of a community was also reflected in informants’ accounts of brands and authenticity. . . reflects the relationship between being accepted by the mainstream and authenticity. and I bought three rose gold charms. Critically.. I wanted something special. A common ritual among young Australians is the “Big OE” or overseas experience whereby people spend time following high school or university working and traveling overseas (for historical reasons London is the destination of choice). The valuing of connection to place and community was also reflected in purchase behavior. Her mention of “pitching in” (whether this involved sponsorship. and some of them are ugly and some have dark skin and some have no hair. For several of our informants. and it might be a small thing but. her two degrees of separation). I think that they’ve exploited their reputation in the meanwhile by general employment practices. Interviewer: So what’s the consequence of that? Judy: Because hardly any girls look like that. yes.. At the end of her stay in London. Offering an unusual take on the legitimacy of cigarette brands. Interviewer: So things that contribute to the community are authentic? Zoe: Yes.THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION 845 TABLE 2 (Continued) Goal Definition Informant exemplars Interviewer: What is it about Nike? Renee: I put them in an inauthentic category just because although they became the market leader and did a lot of creative stuff. . The Cabbage Patch dolls are better because they look real. and I knew that by buying those it would be something that I’d wear all the time and it would remind me of London. providing music. growth in participation. and the wider involvement of institutions such as the local school and surf shop. . Interviewer: What is it? Judy: It’s the Barbie doll. John’s passage in table 2. . and people gather around it . which is Portobello Road.e. for example. Louise recounted her desire to buy something that reminded her of her time spent in London. Judy: Yes. they look like real babies. Rather than selecting an object that Australians might associate with “Englishness” (i. It is the case that changes in societal attitudes toward smoking have seen this activity . someone else might have brought some music and all are welcome. Louise deliberately chose to go to the markets at Portobello Road—a favorite among Londoners.

Nick’s selection of the cycling brand Campagnolo reflects this valuing of contribution to community. word for word. We believe that one reason is that these highly popular shows (Big Brother. she can engage in more meaningful relationships. Interviewer: Big? Rowena: I can identify it you know. I always relate the general sense to a feeling you get.) Rowena: It’s big. I’ve never used them before but I assume they’re better. worldwide. and then I got to India. there’s Star TV in India. The importance Nick attaches to this view is further revealed by the fact that. I’m on that couch at 6 o’clock at night watching the reruns of The Simpsons. . . and before I went to India every year. you know. its just people talking about them [Campagnolo] more than anything else. Again. Kates 2004) and therefore authenticity. For Nick and Rowena. . so you know. . For example: Interviewer: How about the Simpsons? (Picture prompt. Western values. Again I am generalizing because recently now they are open to the West. so you get the feeling that Campagnolo are completely focused on what they’re doing for cycling and that makes them a little bit more authentic. the religion. outsourcing. Rose and Wood (2005) examined how such a contrived event as reality television could be authentic. with a basic sort of values perhaps because life is harder for them. as well as other people in general (by being able to recount “every word”). concerned with different things that I think are more authentic and more meaningful. which lends it subcultural legitimacy (cf. Caroline’s passage reveals that she regularly seeks spiritual enrichment by traveling to India. my grandmother can relate to it. the grass roots). This valuing of brands as conduits for connection was central to many informant accounts. Interviewer: Okay. although he has never used the brand. their values. and I have been back 13 times because I feel there is a level of honesty and everything that is lacking in other places.” For example.” repeatedly recalled her experiences in India when discussing authenticity: Interviewer: What about your pictures of India? Caroline: I have done a lot of traveling in my life. They are concerned with family. he reports: Campagnolo is more traditional. so they are changing very. Caroline. central to both Nick’s and Rowena’s accounts of authenticity is an idealization of “being together” or community and of how particular brands allow one to feel engaged with others (cf. . I went to a different country. Rowena’s stress on being able to recount episodes of the Simp- sons (such as mimicking signature phrases) would enable her to communicate with others who shared her love of the show. and American Idol) allow people to connect to shared experiences by providing the basis for “water cooler conversations. Western civilization . particularly as the local inhabitants are more genuine because they are less interested in material pursuits (“People didn’t want anything from you so they were in- . This brand is valuable because it provides him with a means to indirectly connect to a living tradition of cycling (i. with the result that cigarette brands no longer define individuals (it was common among smokers to identify with advertisements celebrating the “Marlboro man” or the “Alpine woman”) or provide the basis for connection. It’s a popular program and you can—little kids can relate to it.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 846 move from the mainstream to the periphery. which I find sad. She gains a number of positive outcomes from such self-authenticating acts. Interviewer: Yes. . Caroline: But before all that they are concerned with the universal things about life that are nothing to do with consuming. . so when I first went there it was a country like I had never encountered . Interviewer: What are the things that they are concerned with? Caroline: The way they approach people I think is more authentic. who defines herself as a “nonmaterialist” and “not much of a consumer. the food was different. there’s computers. Thompson 1997). I think it’s going back to the grass roots of cycling. these objects are valuable because they enable them to engage in shared experiences on a daily basis. other cyclists constantly talk about it as the quality leader.e. I have never been to India so could you maybe explain what is it about India that is authentic? Caroline: I feel unlike other countries it’s been less touched by Western consumerism. It’s been around for 12–15 years. Associated benefits included the feeling of virtuousness that comes with staying true to one’s morals and the spiritual enrichment that comes from seeing desired universal values in practice. Conferring authenticity in these accounts was akin to expressing one’s morals. very rapidly. First.. she believes that by traveling to places where people live her values. They seem to live life on a different level. For example. In her discussion of authenticity Rowena stresses how The Simpsons enable her to connect with her children and parents. Survivor. For Nick the Campagnolo brand is run by passionate cyclists (like him) who dedicate themselves to producing quality products that benefit the sport. Whereas Shimano make fishing rod reels and all that sort of stuff. the way people related. Feeling Virtuous The final account of authenticity we identified captured informants who represented their authentic self by making judgments based on purity of motive.

customs. and there’s another child squatting down behind him ready to catch the ball. and it’s a very emotional piece that taps into universal feelings. Interviewer: Okay. Caroline’s account of authenticity idealizes a set of values she feels she cannot find in her everyday life in Australia. the offending brands are viewed as trying to gain something by stealth. down-to-earth picture. Second. For these three (and other) informants. They are just a handbag but I think to create a desire amongst people for something that costs so much money which is out of proportion to the . Interviewer: How? Interviewer: So what do you see. Anita’s and Caroline’s focus on notions of universal innocence. just the innocence of children playing. and how is it related to authenticity? Anita: Well. Judy judges Barbie to be inauthentic because of the negative impact on the body image of young girls (while Cabbage Patch dolls are authentic for the opposite reason). For example: Consistent with the accounts of control and connection. Consistent with notions of transcending the self. informants’ accounts of virtue revealed notions of innocence and being free from false pretense. while Nike was a cynical exploiter of workers and consumers because they presented themselves as the world leader yet failed to live up to this claim in their day-to-day business practices. Mario: Well. Caroline also draws a link between authenticity and universal emotions. when seeking virtue. The person who sculptured it has produced a sculpture that is about very authentic basic human emotion. There’s a small child with his socks down playing with a cricket bat that’s been handmade by a couple of pieces of wood. Interviewer: So not Michelangelo himself that you would associate with authenticity but the feelings? Caroline: Yes. For example. Chanel and Givenchy. but he has produced something beautiful and honest. In contrast. There’s a couple of kids looking. Mario: And not trying to cheat someone or market something when they know that it’s not a good product. Central to accounts of virtue were notions of honesty and a lack of ulterior motive. . including her subsequent decision to stop using Nike. for me for something to be authentic it’s got to be honest. what he has produced. attributing authenticity only to the universal emotion conveyed in the work itself. Interviewer: So the sculpture describes the authentic feelings? Caroline: Yes. This business strategy reflected false pretense or the promotion of conspicuous consumption. brands focused on serving people’s basic needs were judged more favorably. Such selfish motives were seen as out of step with the real necessities of living. and values). informants were critical of luxury brands because their pricing was not proportional to the product’s utility. Caroline and Renee judge Nike to be inauthentic because of a lack of morals (see table 2 for further examples). such as perceptions of quality or higher margins. . It’s the mother with the dead son and the grief. For example: Interviewer: Can you explain in detail what you see in this picture? Mario: McDonald’s I suppose would be the prime example of dishonesty. To me it’s authentic. children were seen as authentic because their play was not compromised by self-interest. In each case. Caroline is able to present herself to others as someone of moral conviction because she is active in living her values. honesty. He may have sculptured that for money. These differences demonstrate that another world (a world she values) is possible if one is prepared to reject consumerism. Her attraction to these values is emphasized in Caroline’s discussion of the totality of differences between Australia and India (in terms of food. breaches of ethical norms resulted in a loss of authenticity because the brands were judged as lacking moral fiber. I thought it was related to authenticity because it looks like an honest. Interviewer: Authenticity and honesty.THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION 847 terested in you as a person”). Someone may have commissioned him. it is the perceived lack of social ethics that drives her judgment. Every mother would experience that if she lost a son. Caroline: I picked Michelangelo’s Pieta because I think that encapsulates really authentic emotion. Consistent with Caroline’s attempt to transcend materialist pursuits. . in the past they have always kind of promoted their food as giving well-being and happiness and really it was a bad product. Once these brands have been “found out” they are judged as inauthentic brand partners because of their suspect motives. in which [case] the authenticity doesn’t really come from him. informants applied notions of virtue to their assessments of brands. and truth characterized other accounts of virtue. You can’t get more truthful than children playing. although Renee recognizes that the brand became a market leader through creativity. are they the same? Mario: Yes. For Anita. Both Mario’s and Renee’s (see table 2) assessments of McDonald’s and Nike reflect this ideal. religion. Anita: Yes. brands are judged against a moral standard—McDonald’s was viewed as deceitful because of the gap between the marketing messages and the healthiness of the their products. In both cases. She virtually dismisses the role played by the artist (and his motives) and those of his sponsor. For example: Caroline: Like some of those handbags that cost hundreds of dollars.

may be—I think it really comes back to the fine lines of what’s authentic. verifia- . Second. Thompson 1997). it’s clear they’re delivering the same product the same way and in the same environment every time. the following two passages identify conflict between competing goals. independent judgment. maybe they’re not. Interviewer: What about the VW Beetle? Caroline: I think so because the original car was made for everyone to be able to afford. but when we are talking about authenticity. We propose that the three personal goals (the desire for control. Phil spoke with pride about his achievements in building his own business and of his four-wheel drive as being necessary to perform effectively (he needed a car well suited to carrying heavy surveying equipment). Lifton 1993). so I suppose it’s authentic. which you would say was authentic. informant accounts of control reflected attempts at situational problem solving and an identity associated with achieving performance-related goals. and it really does affect what I buy. Caroline’s choice of the old VW Beetle contrasts with her criticism of luxury accessory brands earlier. I value the environment. First. He spoke of his work and his desire to be environmentally conscious: Well. two benefits of authenticity (control and virtue) are important. AUTHENTICATING STANDARDS: A CULTURAL ACCOUNT A central tenet of consumer culture theory is that human agency operates within a social context (Arnould and Thompson 2005. Accounts of connection focused on immersion in something larger than oneself and “doing one’s bit” as a community member.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 848 worth of the item is immoral when people are starving. connection. That’s not authentic to me. it raises some serious concerns about health issues when you’re talking about McDonald’s. and experiences (Ferrara 1998. Accounts of virtue reflected the widely held view that there are universal moral principles of right and wrong. Although Ross recognizes that McDonald’s products may be “morally gray. In Ross’s discussion of McDonald’s. Ratner 2000)—that is. Yet I know that driving a big four-wheel drive seems a contradiction. Caroline values the Beetle because it was developed for the common person and because it was affordable. Her stress on a universal claim—people’s basic need for food—over all other claims that Chanel and Givenchy may make about quality or symbolic value is consistent with her earlier statements in which she attributes authenticity to an entirely different set of values than those held by luxury goods companies. but it is if one desires fast food. A second example provides further evidence of a goal-contingent view of authenticity. we identified four critical standards: firsthand experience. and virtue reflect three dominant sociocultural norms: being practical (control). participating (connection). these things are going to lead to high obesity. because the car was developed to provide transportation for the masses rather than for perceived superficial values such as prestige or status. Summary of the Accounts: The Goal Contingent Nature of Authenticity The three goal-inspired accounts of authenticity should be viewed as being representative of self-relevant conceptualizations of authenticity rather than as a by-product of personality traits. and I think you should have values that you stick to. individual expressions reflect more widely held social views or dominant myths (Hirschman 2000.” he can still find authenticity in the product when he is seeking a guaranteed consumption experience (regardless of global location). in this case by challenging the morals of brands that charge so much for a functional item. Taylor 1991). This is demonstrated in two ways. Put another way. Certainly. and importantly. In terms of what they’ve don’t tell you. Being Practical With regard to control. The standards underpinning accounts of control. brands. Like Ross. connection. Phil’s passage above involves a tension between two desired identity benefits—control and virtue. It’s not honest. Caroline’s passages reinforce her earlier statements about pursuing what is meaningful. For example. reference was made to the need to be realistic in establishing what was authentic. But as a committed environmentalist he was also aware that such a vehicle has high emissions and low fuel economy. Ross compartmentalizes au- thenticity around a series of situations—McDonald’s may not be an authentic product when seeking something healthy. The object is authentic because there is a reasonable relation between price and function. I was thinking and the fact is that my four-wheel drive is still authentic in its own strange way. Caroline’s emphasis on the motive for production as the source of the brand’s authenticity reinforces her view of self as a person of moral conviction. the accounts of authenticity covered above reveal the same informant (such as Meg and Rowena) seeking multiple benefits. and morality (virtue). prevailing cultural influences give rise to the standards that are applied in the conferring authenticity to objects. and if you pay for something it’s got to have a commensurate value. I think they’re [McDonald’s] authentic for what they. I still see it as authentic in that it helps me do my job but also reminds me that I need to keep making an effort in other ways. I am looking for things to have a meaning. Phil does not consider the fourwheel drive inauthentic but rather views the “offending” object as a reminder that he must make extra effort to look after the environment. and virtue) reflected informants’ desire to respond to dominant sociocultural norms (Gergen 1991. So they’re trying to deliver what I would say was an authentic product. In Phil’s account. but I don’t think that makes them not authentic.

Phil’s appropriation of the meaning of surfing and his SUV provide other examples of instrumentality in the way they reflect his ability to be successful. Rowena’s desire for healthy products. For example. Our informants shaped desired benefits by using their experience and ability to make informed choices (see also Holt and Thompson 2004). and the preference for pragmatism over ideology in many “New World” countries (Blainey 1994). informants often sought situations that put them in close proximity to others. such actions are often viewed solely through the lens of intentionality or agency (see Postrel [2003] for an example). and Zoe stress being close to others (as represented by people. Postrel 2003). Across the informants’ accounts of connection.THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION bility. practical problem solving. The standards used by informants when seeking control reflected what is called “economic rationalism” within Australia. . and Phil’s focus on selecting surf brands based on his own judgment and not that of others. Often commentators will denigrate this term when discussing authenticity by arguing that it leads to the dominance of large corporations. such as high interest rates. To date. and instrumentality. Seabrook 2000). Tony appreciates ING’s campaign because it enables him to make accurate comparison with other brands.” The informants’ attitudes toward brands and associated marketing messages reflected a dominant cultural theme usually associated with the inauthentic (insofar as commercial motives are rejected as not authentic by the “sov- 849 ereign consumer”. reduction in consumer choice. However. which holds that individual actions occur with little recourse to wider social forces (Ratner 2000). and rational decision making. The informants’ accounts reveal a desire for agency through independent decision making—choices not influenced by the emotions that often underpin marketer-driven iconic cues. and they rejected more emotive claims. and the loss of consumer power (e.. communal norms. As well. .” Therefore. He also points out that people are there because they want to be and that they undertake the grueling annual event out of . the cultural idealization of the aforementioned standards are evidenced in the love of sporting achievement.. he emphasized getting an understanding of the meaning of everyday Moroccan life (communal norms). and verifiability was evident in Tony’s emphasis on testing the system when dealing with brands like ING. Meg and hair care products and William and Swiss watches. independent judgment. . the benefits and standards associated with control are often viewed as inauthentic because they indicate self-interested problem solving (see. irrational acts such as impulse purchasing or extending mortgages to pay for luxuries are regularly denigrated at the cultural level as being the expenditure of the “credit rich” or “spoilt” youngsters). time. or ingredient information. and culture) as central to authentication. Louise. Nick. informants desired messages that conveyed verifiable performance benefits. Brands and events provided the conduit for people to connect by bringing community members or loved ones together as part of an authoritative performance (Arnould and Price 2000). Nick stresses the importance of partaking in a communal cycling event because it represents an activity that genuine members of the St. see table 2) provides further evidence of a requirement for independent judgment through firsthand experience and personal verification. These four standards reflected a desire for consumer sovereignty. but as he felt he could not fully appreciate this without living there. Participating In the case of the connection-based accounts. The informants’ passages also provide evidence of their desire for instrumentality (of brands and self). The significance of firsthand experience. The skepticism (or cynicism—see Tony) toward marketing claims preexperience and the desire for verification of these claims (e. The nature of control and its associated standards have rarely been explained culturally to better understand authenticity—in fact. For example.g. in stressing functional performance benefits.. Hochschild [1983] provides a rare counterexample). he was less concerned about traveling to the back region than having a local guide who could relay information. Taylor 1991. and efficacy across a range of situations. Boyle 2003. and ubiquity. and consumer agencies regularly test the functional performance of brands to identify the best-performing product/service and the best value for the money. these seemingly pragmatic norms have not been identified in research on authenticity. When seeking control. we identified three standards driving judgments of authenticity: proximity. Thus. Kilda cycling fraternity engage in. the denigration of academics (in Australia often referred to as impractical “pointy heads”). This view is also shared by Rowena and reemphasized in her desire to see tennis stars “up close and personal” and “out there sweating and working hard for the crowd. place. when seeking connection. Harris 2001. informants are reflecting a culturally embedded norm that values an empowered. free market politicians and business commentators regularly emphasize the power of the consumer to cease doing business with even the largest organizations (Rand 1967). consumer sovereignty. which has taglines such as “Trust the evidence” and “Let’s see where the evidence leads. Brand authentication influenced by the desire for control involved an application of standards appropriate to informed decision making. You can really see these people giving their all rather than being on the news. thereby increasing his chances of getting the best possible result—a point reinforced by Michael’s comments about Apple and Phil’s selection of surf brands. Many top-rating shows in Australia are crime or police dramas. Such a desire also feeds into two other related standards—communal norms and ubiquity. in Scott’s discussions of his various encounters in Morocco. frizz control. However. sensible consumer as opposed to a consumer as dupe (in fact. Meg’s desire for direct experience of product performance claims.g. e. emphasis was given to being close to others. such as the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) franchise.g.

Suchman 1995) and because they have evolved in line with changes in communal norms. but I don’t think that they need to actually keep telling people that. Kates 2004). Interviewer: It’s affordable? Zoe: Yes. Interviewer: What is it about the brand? Zoe: Everyone loves it. Kozinets 2002). For example: Interviewer: McDonald’s is authentic? Zoe: Yes. This finding sits in direct contrast to research claiming that mass-marketed objects. Interviewer: What do you mean—being everywhere is authentic? Zoe: It’s just everywhere.. In their accounts of connection as an expression of authenticity. Or you see signs saying McDonald’s 500 meters next right. informants regularly selected high-profile established mass market brands—objects not usually associated with authenticity. everywhere. The brand still enables him to connect with place because it is widely adopted by the community. it was the ubiquity and common nature of these brands that made them authentic. Major brands are highly visible representations of the social fabric because of their omnipresence and their age (i. worldwide. and as far as we’re concerned it’s still Australian. However. Scott regards this as unnecessary because the brand is an established icon among all Australians. Rowena comments: Nike. Scott’s passage represents several aspects of the standards underpinning informant accounts of connection. it’s a common brand. Interviewer: What is it about McDonald’s? Zoe: McDonald’s. because people know it. It’s originally Australian. stressing the importance of “putting in” and “giving back” in her discussion of the role of community members and organizations in bringing people together and ensuring the vibrancy of the community through the socialization of children into such rituals. These characteristics of brands that allow connection also explain John’s view regarding the decline in the authenticity of cigarette brands and the authenticity attributed to Campagnolo by Nick (despite the fact that he has no direct experience of the brand). we’re basically the only country in the world that eats it. In Zoe’s and Rowena’s discussion of McDonald’s and Nike. . lack authenticity (Beverland 2006. it’s still around now. authenticity through connection is influenced by cognitive legitimacy—a determination driven by whether the object in question is an inevitable part of the environment and necessary for a comprehensible account of social reality. is shared across generations. it’s just there to be enjoyed all the time. 582–83). You can’t miss it. the informants are reflecting a number of cultural norms all of which can be broadly classified as “participating. It’s just something that everyone indulges in without. Interviewer: Because Australians eat it? Scott: Yes. Because Vegemite is no longer an Australian-owned brand (thus one form of indexical connection to place has been lost). . Scott’s acceptance of a local guide’s views as more real or true than what an outsider can experience also indicates how communal norms form the basis for assessment. it’s everywhere. And it’s just there. Zoe emphasizes similar themes. so as far as we’re concerned it’s an authentic.” First. unique to our data on connection is the preference for ubiquitous. McDonald’s is McDonald’s.e. This sense of duty was reinforced by Nick’s attitude that one should follow the rules of events and adopt a “mustn’t grumble” attitude to minor inconveniences such as waiting for ferries and the early morning start. The golden arches—Big Mac. McDonald’s is just there. they were institutionalized. you know. These brands are often viewed in highly benevolent terms (Rowena: “It’s [McDonald’s] good for the economy. but for all intents and purposes Vegemite is Australian. as demonstrated by the popularity of . with their ubiquity a sign of their relevance (and therefore value) to the community and their democratic nature (because they are available to all comers). french fries.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 850 a sense of duty. and middle-class values. This emphasis on communal norms to establish authenticity also translated into a preference for brands that were thought to reinforce cultural traditions. the consumption of Vegemite marks one out as Australian. massmarketed objects and emphasis on the mainstream as authentic. Kraft downplays any direct link to place. worrying. Suchman 1995. You can find it anywhere. For example: Scott: I think they’ve [Kraft] dropped the Australian part to it because they can’t claim that anymore. Boyle 2003. You go down St. within Australia much of the popular cultural discourse celebrates mainstream traditions. and remains something that “all true Aussies eat. you get deals. or they believe. in your face. and is therefore authentic despite being owned by a global parent company. Although community tradition is often seen as one pillar of authenticity (Arnould and Price 2000.” For Scott. The passages above highlight how authenticity is attributed symbols that literally define the social landscape (in this way. remains a part of the fabric of Australian identity. or objects that appear tainted by the market or motivated by commercial considerations. In the accounts in which emphasis was given to the importance of connection. cheeseburger. The value Rowena placed on mainstream shared experiences and traditions resulted in a preference for mass brands as demonstrated in the value she attributed to the widely shared ritual of watching The Simpsons and the fact that all ages can participate in the experience. It’s not an Australian-owned brand. and our parents and our grandparents had it when they were growing up as well. original Australian product. the everyday. it’s good for Melbourne”). Kilda Road or wherever and see the arches and you know. .

or everyone doing their part to make society better. and have become a part of the social landscape to the extent that they gained iconic status. sharing. such as “nonmaterialist. Third. while universality means that these standards override other considerations. Caroline’s preference for utilitarian brands whose motivation is to fulfill the needs of everyone (e. Universality was reflected in connections between identity characterizations. her positive assessment of the VW Beetle because of its affordability) and through her rejection of upscale brands that charge prices well in excess of the product’s utility value (e. Behavior perceived as unethical overshadowed all other considerations in judging the brand as (in)authentic. despite claims that traditional family units are in decline. idealization of the innocence of “primitive societies” or nature (seen as innocent.e. churches. what it means to be an “Australian” or a “Melbournian”). Caroline’s account of her travels to India reveals how these standards underpin her assessment of authenticity. and a sense of a “fair go” (as reflected in concerns about Nike’s employment practices—the notion of a “fair go” is a cornerstone of Australian identity. emphasis is placed on mutual responsibility. pure. and the displacement of core values. such as the lack of authenticity in contemporary consumer culture (often associated with “Western culture”). and parliament). pop culture (including brands) has been elevated in status. Such views represent a moral longing on behalf of society to transcend practical selfish concerns. local customs. manners. a preference for cultures wholly different from Western ways of life. Fueling this debate is the acknowledgment of renewed interest in shared traditions by younger generations (such as dramatic increases in attendance at the dawn service to remember Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in the two world wars) and a sense that other important traditions are under attack from policies usually lambasted as “political correctness gone mad” or “un-Australian” (e. These individuals are often affectionately referred to as “impractical dreamers” or as having “their hearts in the right place” (Blainey 1994). while notions of “high culture” as special are downplayed or challenged as elitist. Also.” provide the conduit for shared intergenerational traditions.e. concern with morality and universal standards of right and wrong remain as widely held sociocultural norms. and a desire to transcend self-interest (Trilling 1972). authenticity is associated with certain moral ideals that may involve disillusionment with the Western world (Taylor 1991). Putnam 2001). Purity represents a consistent application of a set of morals. and there is genuine concern at the decline in volunteering. families are the preferred unit within much social discourse in Australia. attempts to remove Christmas celebrations from schools under the guise of multiculturalism). the application of universal assessments reflected in terms such as “dishonest. Caroline believes India symbolizes her values (whereas “the West” may be considered profane) and represents the universal application of these values across different areas of life.. Further evidence of the sense of responsibility can be found in the public debates around national and local identity (i. and survival). Although practical people are celebrated in society. and traditional events (cf.” and value “family” results in a preference for ubiquitous commercial objects because they reflect these values.” and “worthwhile. In her comparative assessment of Western versus Indian culture. so too are moral purists who sit outside institutions (such as universities.g. adoption of Western goods.THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION reality television shows and the increasing casualization of news and current affairs shows hosted by “ordinary” presenters (who operate solely on a first name or nickname basis) addressing day-to-day issues such as parenting tips and financial advice for teens (McCamish 2008). Morality For virtue. This process of establishing purity carries over to brands—hence. the brands referred to in informant accounts of connection were part of mainstream popular culture.” and general condemnations of commercial culture. MacCannell 1973).. For example. The very ubiquitous nature of these objects reflects that they are inclusive and open to all in the community. universal notions of right and wrong. informants seeking virtue were intolerant of moral lapses. Caroline’s emphasis on the lack of materialism (both hers and that of the Indian locals) is representative of a universal judgment—both against what she views as meaningless material pursuits and in terms of giving necessary priority to core values (interpersonal relationships. environmentalism. Chanel and Givenchy). Regardless of the recognized merits of brands such as Nike or McDonald’s. The 2007 election featured a contest between two parties—one stressing the needs of “working families” and the other of “mortgage belt families. In each case. Despite sustained philosophical attacks on notions of certainty in universal standards. we identified the two interconnected standards of purity and universality.” “cheated. or free from self-interest.. Campbell 1987.. The informants’ accounts reflected universal norms. The application of universal standards was reflected in informant assessments of people (Ben Johnson) and brands 851 (Nike and McDonald’s) that have breached ethical standards or have failed to take into account their wider impact on society (Barbie).g. Purity was demonstrated by associations between notions of innocence (often reflected in images of children playing) and selflessness. This point is reinforced in Caroline’s sadness regarding India’s rapid economic growth.. family. Blainey 1994).g. Second.” and a preference for brands that addressed universal needs (such as transport) rather than prestige or patriotism (these informants disliked Vegemite because it was promoted as “Australian”).” We believe a desire to preserve mainstream traditions. The use of these varying standards in the different accounts suggests that informants engage in selective information processing and interpretation depending on the desired benefits sought (i. When combined. consumers may draw on all three . these two standards allow Caroline to feel that her values are both moral and practical and that holding them is possible. “do your part. espouse the importance of “giving back.

Motivated reasoning involves accentuating information that confirms identity or preferred outcome/position while giving less credence to contradictory evidence (Kunda 1990). informants regularly inferred meaning from events. accounts of virtue involve reducing the brand to a “moral core. The first strategy we identified was placement. Rowena and Zoe project their motives for attending various events onto other attendees to reinforce the belief that they are connected to a community. and projection). Caroline projected her desired values onto Indian locals whose friendliness reflected a certain moral stance. reduction. and remaining loyal to certain brands. we found that informants located themselves externally in particular places or situations conducive to self-authentication. despite Tony’s claim that ING only focuses on rational product performance in its advertisements. But I look at the product itself. particularly where informants must negotiate paradoxical situations. Central to Tony’s account of ING’s authenticity is that it provides him with factually testable information to allow him to make the best possible judgment. inference. while there is a strong desire to have others know us as we really are. In each case. our informants employed four strategies (placement. The active processing of information to give preference to self and/or situationally relevant cues has been revealed in a number of studies on authenticity (as identified in the Theoretical Background). informants seeking to connect would infer shared motives and values among other participants at their chosen event—Nick. or cues in their interpretation of authenticity.” while accounts of connection focused on evidence that suggested being part of a community—such as heritage. Likewise Zoe inferred likemindedness and commitment to community from the intent (sponsorship) of local surf shops. including using shows such as The Simpsons as a conduit for familial connection and shared experience (Rowena). Goffman (1959) identified that. Finally. In seeking outcomes associated with virtue. William’s assessment of the redesigned VW Beetle involves stripping away the marketing claims and focusing on whether the new version resembles the original one he owned and loved—“I don’t believe what they have put down as words because it’s just marketing words and hype. wisdom). took it for granted that other cyclists shared the same motives for being at the Round the Bay in a Day ride. effort. This reflects Tony’s desired identity (as did Michael’s discussion about Apple) as someone who has achieved the best possible outcomes by applying his resources (knowledge. Nick projects his belief that he is a “true cyclist” onto the Campagnolo brand—he determines that Campagnolo creates quality products to benefit the cycling community because it focuses only on cycling. Tony and the other informants infer from emotional brand messages a desire to trick consumers into parting with their money. to feel part of a shared experience.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH 852 accounts at different times to advance different identity goals)—an issue we turn to next. For example. in seeking virtue. placement involved informants availing themselves of a means to enact their identity goals. various informants stressed the number of times they had traveled overseas or emphasized their regular attendance at key events or ritualistic attendance at certain events. she seeks a particular part of India—that not tainted by Western consumerism). attending events. several of Rose and Wood’s (2005) informants projected desired values onto cast members in reality television shows in order to build an authentic connection with the show. In this way each informant was an active consumer (or creator) of authenticity rather than a passive receiver of information. engaging in particular experiences. Caroline traveled widely before settling on India as a favored destination (and.” as opposed to “the front people put on” (William and Kate). Across our accounts was a deliberate search for particular places that offered the possibility of self-authentication. . As part of the motivated reasoning process. This involved traveling to places. In each account informants related authenticity to positive identity benefits and in so doing gave precedence to certain information cues while downplaying or ignoring others that were inconsistent with their assessment. Accounts of connection were replete with examples of placement. Tony engaged in projection in his discussion of the ING brand. Interestingly. Caroline infers from the friendliness of locals and their impoverished conditions that they have transcended selfish motives or material desires.” Likewise. In the section above. The strategy of projection has been identified in previous research on authenticity. as identified in her passage. AUTHENTICATING STRATEGIES The previous section demonstrated that informants actively sought self-authentication across a wide variety of contexts. skills. Reduction involves eliminating superfluous elements to find the essence of a brand. who emphasizes that by choosing ING you are a smarter person—in contrast to Tony’s claim to the contrary). accounts of control featured stories about going to the back region to seek out “life as it really is. adoption by the mass market. Our informants projected their desired identities onto events in order to reinforce their personal narrative and gain desired benefits. For example. For example. for example. This processing involves motivated reasoning and more particularly the biasing and elaboration of certain pieces of information for use as evidence in determining what is authentic (Kunda 1990). For example. people. this statement represents the result of removing the lifestyle messages in the brand’s marketing communications (advertising for the brand features Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. the reality of time and a myriad of other pressures result in purposeful editing and a selective projection of information in an attempt to convey the authentic self. Within the passages provided. where Arnould and Price (2000) identified internal orientations (such as spontaneity or intrinsic valuing) conducive to self-authentication. and I can relate to the product because you can still see an outline of the old car. and ubiquity.

Our findings demonstrate a hierarchy of meaning and causality in regard to the production of the authentic. and therefore judgments of authenticity. Boyle 2003). connection. when consumers have different goals. and capable producer of authenticity against a background of seemingly competing societal norms.e. and events for different reasons (control. the informants in this study found authenticity in functional and ubiquitous objects. creative. connection. despite the different goals. the authentic). In identifying the influence of personal goals on judgments of authenticity. rather they are viewed as authentic only when they lead to genuineness. connection. in which consumers actively construct personally useful notions of the authentic. and virtue. and/or virtue). BRANDS. and virtue) that drive the systematic selection and evaluation of different consumption experiences as being (in)authentic. This is identified in figure 2. different categories of experiences that lead to assessments of genuineness. Three broad goals are identified (control. violence. In contrast to previous research or philosophical reflections on authenticity. reality. Figure 2 identifies the interconnectedness between consumers’ search for authenticity. and genuine (i. etc. our informants shared a common quest—the desire for the real. connection. and truth (control. and events that others may deem as fake. and virtue). we also provide an overarching framework for understanding consumer judgments of authenticity. and/or truth. We identify that. connection. and virtue. connection.THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY IN CONSUMPTION 853 DISCUSSION Our findings contribute to our understanding of the consumption and production of authenticity in a number of ways. authenticity was found in mainstream events and brands. and specific experiences that lead to assessments of control. they seek authenticity in different kinds of experiences. and cues. Specific objects. true. For example. we add support to Rose and Wood’s (2005) notion of hyperauthenticity. Far from needing to be rescued from mass culture (Benjamin 1960. However. and events provide the means by which consumers make assessments of control. as our findings clearly show. different personal goals and standards enable people to find authenticity in a range of objects. the Simpsons may provide the route to connection (and genuineness and authenticity) for Rowena because of the show’s ubiquity. experiences. Therefore. we also identify the consumer as an adept. The same event may be judged (in)authentic by the same or different consumers depending on the goal. consumers ultimately seek the same thing (authenticity) in different objects. AND EXPERIENCES (OBE) . brands. Importantly.). In doing so. in- FIGURE 2 THE MANIFESTATION OF AUTHENTICITY IN OBJECTS. notions of control. we counter claims by Baudrillard (1988) and Eco (1986) that authenticity is impossible where common standards for what is real or fake are lacking. That is. However.. In articulating our findings. The problem with this line of thinking is that it presupposes universal standards. racism. brands. while in a different context the show may provide her with a feeling of control because of its child-friendly content (lack of profanity. brands. and virtue are not in and of themselves authentic. reality.

through repeated exposure (placement) to the context—for example. Informants such as Ross and Phil adopt different approaches when dealing with conflicts between different standards. By identifying the goal-contingent nature of authenticity judgments and the standards and strategies employed. First. these findings provide a bridge between previous and future research on the consumption of authenticity. we highlight the creativity or adeptness of consumers in finding authenticity in the postmodern world. and consistent with Rose and Wood’s (2005) thinking. Grayson and Martinec 2004) is that. or morph across. brands. Although Beverland et al. and creating traditions. 2006). (2008) suggest that indexicality and iconicity are interrelated. such a tourist site enables visitors to reconnect with shared childhood experiences and provides a coherent account of Holmes’s life that fits with the socially constructed view of reality. suggesting that the relationship between how one achieves self-authentication and authenticates an object is tighter than previously suggested (Grayson and Martinec 2004. Figure 2 identifies the relationship between specific objects. Extending this further. and cues to achieve self-authentication. Rose and Wood’s (2005) focus on the processes underpinning authenticity judgments represents an important point of departure from previous research because it avoids dichotomies between the real and the fake and focuses on how consumers interpret authenticity in everyday events. and/or events an indexical character. validation through online social networking of the importance one places on community) may in future engagements overshadow any concerns that elements of the experience might be inauthentic. Although such research is necessary. our informants are aware of the need to forge an identity that marries the selfinterest with community norms while tapping into universal moral norms. However. One such example of process strategy that adds to our understanding of the inclination to negotiate paradox (Rose and Wood 2005) and suspend disbelief (Belk and Costa 1998. Several other potential lines of inquiry emerge from our findings. Future research is needed to examine whether some goals are more powerful than others in achieving this transformation. online social networks—other goal-oriented processes such as inference or projection become paramount as they enable consumers to attach themselves to idealized values or identities that validate their concept of self (Schau and Gilly 2003). For example. second. Just as an overemphasis on the self or the other may lead to isolation and alienation or a lack of individuality. These findings suggest that consumers are very adept at adjusting to changes in the macro environment (see Thompson 2000). they result in a diversity of conceptualizations of authenticity. our informants were highly competent when it came to sorting real from fake. We extend this by drawing explicit links between identity goals and the means by which consumers authenticate brands. Also evident in the findings is the consumers’ chameleon-like ability to adapt to. That is. As well as providing an overarching framework for previous research on cues. standards. Our research also helps to explain Grayson and Martinec’s (2004) finding that consumers attributed authenticity to a Sherlock Holmes tourist site. and processes. In this search. we were not able to examine whether consumers used single strategies or specific mixtures of strategies when seeking particular goals. synthesizes the competing standards of control and virtue by using the SUV both as a symbol of . the object (the Holmes site) is a vehicle for people to connect. and bathroom products. Research is therefore needed to expand upon our findings. brands. and experiences and the search for authenticity. Far from struggling to distinguish real from fake (hyperreality) or suffering identity crises from declines in traditional markers of authenticity. Sherlock Holmes was a childhood hero and a part of social reality.854 cluding fast food. The identification of a contingent relationship between consumer goals and particular cues overcomes this latter limitation. underpinning standards.. consumers may look for indexical cues that signal authenticity. creating the genuine through selective use of cues and finding. The second stream of future research requires a shift of focus from the authentic/inauthentic dichotomy to how consumers reconcile competing interpretations of what is authentic. Phil. standards. in contrast. reinforcing. advancement of the self-authentication goal (e. our findings identify why this is so and how iconic cues are transformed into indexical ones. the majority of this research has focused on the cues that indicate authenticity. changing surroundings by drawing on particular strategies. For many AngloSaxon consumers. there are two major limitations in such studies: first. they are unable to account for unexpected results. We also extend Arnould and Price’s (2000) focus on outcomes of self-authentication by identifying how consumers deal with the seeming flux of the postmodern marketplace. is placement critical for connection but not so important for control? Further interpretive and experimental research is needed to explore this issue. thus giving objects. Put simply. thus locating process issues within the consumer’s life world. JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH By accounting for goals (benefits). They also go some way toward reducing the fragmented nature of research on authenticity (see Beverland 2005). successful goal attainment involves consumers taking personal ownership of experiences. and strategies that underpin different interpretations of authenticity in consumption. retaining. Leigh et al. it is unlikely that we have uncovered all the goals. To date. Although we identified four strategies underpinning authenticity judgments. we also identify processes consumers use to realize the benefits of authenticity.g. for example. consumers may also transform iconic cues (using the four strategies identified herein) into indexical ones. Future research on the effectiveness of each strategy (or strategies) in achieving self-authentication goals is also needed. Ross. such as consumer inclination to attribute authenticity to the fictional (Grayson and Martinec 2004). Thus. mass fashion and entertainment. compartmentalizes meanings associated with McDonald’s so that it is seen as authentic when desiring a quick and safe meal overseas but is judged less than favorably when viewed from a moral standpoint. reimagining.

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