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Authenticity is a standout consumer value in 2017, heralded by everyone from changemakers and celebrities to supermarkets and chefs. Authenticity has been identified as the key word helping sell items on eBay in 2016, by researchers Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee from Birmingham City University’s School of English, when looking at the most lucrative words used by sellers. Quizzed about the media circus surrounding his then relationship with Taylor Swift, Tom Hiddleston responded with “as long as you’ve committed to it with authenticity then you’re OK”. This emphasis on “real” crops up in numerous contexts. It is in Twitter’s blue tick badge signifying that the accounts of high profile individuals are verified as real, and in the winter 2016 glossy magazine ad for Amazon Fashion, “Don’t look like me look like you”, celebrating shoppers’ unique style. Pursuit of the genuine, be it in food, pre-loved goods, beer or character, is essential, even if it is contrived. “It took three hours of hair and make-up to get me looking this real”, actress Emily Blunt told British Vogue in November 2016.
Visual culture in an age of digital communications is unsurprisingly at the forefront of discussions about the authentic. Social media and selfie culture have affected insecurity about appearance, exacerbating body dysmorphia in some.
With millions more user-generated images shared among consumers due to mobile internet and phone cameras, a number of brands are identifying consumers’ own photographs and incorporating them into their marketing material to make it seem more authentic and relatable. “Less-than-slick” is not only acceptable, but sometimes desirable, as immediacy and the moment are what counts. Loews Hotels and Resorts in the US offer a #TravelForReal campaign with actual customer Instagram and other social media shots taken at its high-end destinations. “Because no one tells our story better than you: Stay with us and share”, is the strapline.
Part and parcel of the pursuit of authenticity is a conscious debate about what actually counts as authentic. Foodies have been divided, for instance, on whether the fad for meal prepping — the advance preparation of single meal portions to cover days ahead and Instagramming the impressive photos — is authentic or unreal. Bob Geldof, musician-with-a-conscience, regularly teases festival-goers for dressing in unoriginal Primark clothing.
Dishonest marketing strategies don’t sit well with consumers, and social media are a merciless forum for denouncing incidents of greenwashing or “realwashing”. On Facebook, the 3,500 members of “Le Greenwashing et les cosmétiques faussement naturels” expose cosmetics falsely labelled as “natural”. Photoshop-fail stories are shared among millions; these include an image of models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid in miniskirts but without visible knees on their winter 2016 W magazine cover.
Company efforts to ensure authenticity are part of this reach for the real. Home-sharing app Airbnb’s new Guidebooks feature lets owners share information about their neighbourhood’s attractions so tourists can “live like a local”. At work, entrepreneurs want to create a culture of authenticity to engage employees with touches like homelike spaces. “They don’t want to check their personality at the door, and entrepreneurs focus on creating conditions to celebrate that authenticity”, Brian Shapland of start-up furniture company Turnstone told Business News Daily.
Food trends, particularly green-tinged ones, are a useful indicator of the focus on authenticity, with many revolving around what constitutes “natural”. They are part of consumer eagerness to make more considered purchasing decisions, buying from “responsible” brands that sell them quality products with real value. The restored shelf space for misshapen, “ugly” produce is driven by shoppers suspicious of the “industrialised food chain”, as well as the popularisation of traditional diets and concerns about food waste.
In a backlash against digital dependency and the difficulty of uninterrupted reflection, several tour operators, cruise lines and resorts are promoting their unplugged vacations to help consumers get away from “synthetic” digital life.
Adventure travel company Intrepid Travel recently announced its short Digital Detox Trips. Participants pledge to leave digital devices behind them while the tour leader emails updates to their loved ones. Urban hotels helping guests switch off include Renaissance Pittsburgh hotel, offering a family digital detox package letting guests exchange their devices for traditional board games.