Why Does Everyone Want to be Authentic?

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Chewing the fat recently over coffee with a friend and fellow business owner, we got to discussing – and grumbling about – how ubiquitous the term authentic is in today’s business world. And by extension, if people are genuine about wanting others to be authentic – or if it’s nothing more than another tick on the buzzword bingo card.

So, I reckoned I’d take a little look at the word, starting with some of its meanings or applications.

Authentic as an Adjective

  • Something of undisputed origin and not a copy: the letter is now accepted as an authentic document.
  • Something made or carried out in the traditional or original way – or in a way that is a faithful resemblance of the original.
  • In existentialist philosophy – relating to or signifying an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposeful and responsible mode of human living.

The word comes from the Greek, authentikos– meaning original, genuine, principal – with the prefix autosdenoting self. Nowadays we tend to use the word when we wish to describe being genuine and acting on one’s own authority. Being true to one’s self. Something we’ve touched on more than once – as in this blog about the line between selfishness and self-interest.

My suspicion is that it’s the latter of the above meanings that business owners have in mind when they use the word. But gosh it’s become over-used! Not to mention mis-used. This travel blog is a delightful rant about the over-use and mis-use of the word ‘authentic’in the travel industry. But to return to its use and abuse as business jargon.

My friend, in between tucking into a Portuguese Nata, asked ‘what does it even mean when people talk about being their authentic self in business? It’s a fair question. In that vein, the editor-writer of this blog exhorting us all to stop using ‘authentic’describes an American billboard advert he saw on a regular basis. Aimed at women, the advert comprised four statements – one of which was ‘I am authentic’. He says: ‘that statement communicates nothing concrete or valuable to the consumer. The writer goes on to say that he’s noticed ever-increasing numbers of writers and PR contacts using the A-word as a crutch in articles and pitches. ‘It’s such a vague word that could be replaced by more substantive alternatives like “genuine,” “honest,” or “self-aware’.’

Marketers are getting in on the authentic act too. Yes, language makes all the difference in marketing – but every company wants to be authentic.  With this word is it a case of combining identity and quality? They aren’t the same thing at all.

If you’re one of the many that talks of authenticity it might be time to dig out the thesaurus. Apart from the fact that an overused word is a wasted and useless word, all you’re saying with this word is that you are yourself. Which is rather stating the obvious wouldn’t you say? Even worse, you’re in danger of undermining your brand strategy – but this blog can explain all that better than me.

And for Pink&Green? Well, I’ll go back now to the definition of authentic as in something that’s genuine – the real deal. If you’re buying a diamond ring, for example, you want an authentic diamond – not cut glass.  This notion applies to skincare too. The label might say ‘organic’ – but what does that mean? Labelling laws make it legal for skincare manufacturers to label their product as organic even if that term can only be applied to 1% of the formulation. Which isn’t what you’d call honest. It’s within the law yes – yet is far from what it’s leading the consumer to think.

Which is why, at Pink&Green, we list all the ingredients each of our products contains and highlight those that are organic. You don’t have to dig around to find out what our products contain. The information is right in front of you. That’s clear and honest.

And that brings us back to the aforementioned blog urging us to cease and desist using authentic.

To remind: it’s a vague word and one that is easy to replace with something more meaningful: genuine, self-aware … and honest.

  1. Debi Richens

    Totally agree with you, clarity in your authenticity is far better than creating a smokescreen.
    Sadyl, the marketing world will always use our beautiful language as ‘trophy’ words to make their work look the best it can be. It is up to us to determine whether we are to be hoodwinked by them, or be able to see through them and only the product itself can really do that for us.

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