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April 24, 2007

No Recipe for Originality

UPDATED | Bill Breen's Fast Company article is now posted.
Bill Breen authored a provocative piece on Brands & Authenticity in the May issue of Fast Company. (It’s a must-read for every marketer but right now its available only in print, not online.) In the piece, Breen asks and offers credible answers for the following questions:

• What does it take for a brand to be authentic?
• How does a brand stay authentic even as it teeters on ubiquity?
• Can a brand truly be authentic when it tries hard to be authentic?
• Can a brand be viewed as cool while still maintaining its authenticity?

Early on in the article Breen shares some smart marketing fodder...

“Both the promise and the peril of ‘getting real’ are, indeed, very real. ‘Authentic’ is derived from the Greek authentikos, which means ‘original.’ And unfortunately, there’s no recipe for originality. Each brand must build its own primary source code for the authentic.”

“There’s no recipe for originality.” Brilliant take. Love it. Love it almost as much as what offbeat marketing professor Stephen Brown says about how authenticity is unachievable …

“… it is important to appreciate that, for all today’s fixation on the authentic, 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.” [source: FREE GIFT INSIDE!! | Stephen Brown (2003)

Read a little more from Stephen Brown in this vintage Brand Autopsy post.


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I loved that article. Authenticity means so many different things. Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. Hope I haven't spoiled the fun for anyone. And of course there had to be a reference to Starbucks.

What amazes me is how often large companies (and small ones too I suppose) don't look to themselves (i.e. the people making the product) as the source for that elusive authenticity.

If the employees are working hard to make something great, the reason they do it is the eternal spring of inspiration when it comes to being yourself as a brand. (imho) :)

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