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January 23, 2004

The Inauthenticity of Authenticity

“… there is no such thing as authenticity, only varying degrees of inauthenticity. The traditional Irish bar is assembled from mass produced, cod-Celtic kitsch. The free range chickens are free to range around a fetid factory farm. The classic blue jeans are pre-shrunk, pre-faded, pre-ripped, pre-grimed, and doubtlessly, pre-impregnated with pre-washday adolescent aromas. Authentic authenticity, so to speak, is unattainable. But it can be staged, it can be created, it can be evoked.”

So, if real authenticity doesn't exist ... what is a marketer to do?

“… play it absolutely straight. This product is good, buy it. Nine out of ten cats prefer it. Use our shampoo for silky, shiny hair. A painkiller that kills headaches. Fast. The finest food in town. Here. Delivery in 15 minutes. Guaranteed. Cures hemorrhoids, or your money back (as if you’d ask for a refund … as if they’d check if you did.)”

“The fiendish genius of this apparent straight talking is that it works in two ways. On the one hand, good old fashioned sales pitches work as good old-fashioned sales pitches. This detergent washes whiter. That car is the best value for the money. The other computer has more bells and whistles, but our after-sales service is superior. On the other hand, ostensible authenticity has an air of imputed irony. That is to say, sophisticated, marketing-savvy consumers will surmise that traditional this-product-is-good sale pitches are tongue-in cheek, private jokes between them and the advertising agency. Straightforward sales pitches flatter their intelligence by imitating that - unlike unsophisticated consumers – they can see through the unsophisticated sales pitch and detect the sophistication behind the unsophistication. The key is to play it dead straight.”

Welcome to the world of Stephen Brown, a contrarian’s contrarian marketer. The above excerpt can be found in his latest, and most mainstream book yet, Free Gift Inside: Forget the Customer. Develop Markettease.

Expect to read more from Stephen Brown on Brand Autopsy in the days and months to come. While his style is verbose and acerbic, he will challenge your marketing mindset as most marketing gadflys do. Dig?

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