Authenticity, 2018-style

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Authenticity isn’t a new idea – it’s something brands have been trying to communicate for as long as there have been brands, says Andy Cooper. And while it has always been a broad and malleable concept, it currently appears to be occupying a new niche for Millennials.

Authenticity now seems to mean ‘authenticity of purpose’. Young consumers are drawn to products being made by ‘someone like me’ who cares and seems to be developing them because they’re what they’d want, not because they’ve spotted that gap in the market.

We see this in the drinks category with the growth of brands like Brewdog, Camden Brewery, Fever Tree and myriad gin labels. These products are at pains to communicate that they’re made by people who are just like their consumers. Look at the back of any bottle of Camden Hells and it reads “it’s the beer we always wanted to drink and the reason we started our brewery.”

Authenticity of purpose can even come at the expense of expertise or provenance - beer made by passionate amateurs, or Asian food made by Aussies (try Freakscene in Soho, it’s amazing) can both lay claim to being authentic.

This new authenticity can also be seen in the current reshaping of the restaurant landscape. Brands like Honest Burger and Franca Manca grew out of London’s Brixton Market, and they apparently exist because they’re the food their creators wanted to eat. In contrast, no one believes Jamie’s Italian exists because Jamie and Jools were desperate for a safe bet on date night. Jamie’s Italian exists because investors told Mr Oliver there was an opportunity… though it’s struggling right now.

Most interestingly we see authenticity of purpose popping up in communications in less likely categories. Harry’s Razors is the most overt example, with razors developed by men who needed razors. We see it in Thinktank’s work in the gaming market too – gamers want to believe that successful ‘challenger’ studios like Naughty Dog are full of gamers making the games they want to play. Clearly, the democratisation of digital creation has made authentic provenance stories credible for a new range of categories.

The challenge comes when these brands grow, or are acquired by big corporates. Retaining a believable authenticity of purpose message then becomes much harder.  Millennial consumers can believe a small chain or single brewery is run by passionate amateurs, but not a brand filling a shelf in every single Tesco store. 

Moving forward corporates will need to think about how they go about acquiring challenger brands (as they are, and will inevitably continue to do). We will see less consolidation under a master brand umbrella and more diverse portfolios. This will create challenges for corporates. It will take skill, hard work (and great research!) to grow a portfolio of brands and retain credible authenticity of purpose stories.

Andy Cooper is a partner at Thinktank International Research