Calling B.S. Part 1: Authenticity

Does Saying You're "Authentic" Actually Mean Anything?

< The Full Batch of Calling B.S.

Back in 2008, we wrote with some alarm about how the assertion of "authenticity" had taken firm root in the lexicon of branding. Over the ensuing seven years, the word has enjoyed the reproductive fecundity of the Oryctolagus cuniculus. There are now, by our rough estimate 184,597,433,860 references to authenticity used to brand products and services. 


We've had it. With “authentic experiences” and “one-hundred percent authentic” products and even "fake authenticity," labeling a brand "authentic" has approximately the same communicative value as Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss proclaiming, "Our differentiating value-added strategy is transformational change." The word authenticity has devolved to the point of meaninglessness.

Part of the problem, our resident anthropologist asserts, is actually a vexing philosophical one. According to 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, most great debates of philosophy—just like our revulsion at the use of the term "authenticity" to hawk products and experiences that are anything but authentic—are inherent problems in using language to communicate. More specifically, many of the most puzzling of problems result from binaries in our language. Think mind/body, feminine/masculine, human/animal and of course, authentic/inauthentic. We can only think and communicate using the language that we have, but most things in reality lie somewhere along a continuum.