Funny how two unrelated words can be put together and a whole new science is created. One such phrase, “brand authenticity,” refuses to die. If you are working in brand management, or are planning to, it’s important that you understand why you should stay far from the “science” of brand authenticity.
First, a check of the dictionary. Authenticity means “conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief.” Now compare that to “brand,” which has a billion definitions, but let’s use this one: “the perception created in the consumer’s mind.”
Now tell me how those two words can go together in the same sentence. You don’t need perception if you have perfect facts. But facts are not enough to get people interested in, or purchasing your brand or product. Thus, we have marketing.
The images in marketing materials are fake. The characters and their story lines - fake. The copy - fake. The logos are vomit-inducing. The taglines (as we’ve said here a billion times) are bullshit.
But that doesn’t stop the experts. Google “brand authenticity” if you have time to kill. Of the 68,600 results, you’ll come across an Australian company that’s created the “Authentic Brand Index” (oh brother). It’s so authentic that it can only be done every two years. In any case, the #1 authentic brand in Australia for 2008? Microsoft.
I rest my case.
To be sure, some marketers have come close in this crazy chase. Wendy’s late great Dave Thomas is often mentioned. But take a look at Sprint, who’s mimicked him in a way through its “I’m Dan Hesse, CEO” series, which alas has done nothing to stop the customer churn rate of this perennial #3 wireless carrier. Such a shame, because in Sprint’s striving for authenticity, it has managed to blow what should have been a major first-mover advantage with 4G.
JetBlue comes close as an “authentic” brand. Yet it saw the need to hire a new agency of record (Mullen) for communicating its brand message. Let’s see if JetBlue can “keep it real.”
Meanwhile, there is Southwest Airlines. It has managed to convince 86 million passengers a year that its service is fun, through its “authentic” marketing (including its stock symbol = LUV). Yet its boarding and in-cabin cattle car experience is about as fun as riding a dirty Greyhound bus cross country.
A better example, though, is Apple. At some point this coming semester I will ask my MBA students to name their favorite brand. Before I finish the question, someone will have shouted “Apple.” I will ask what Apple means to them, and they will say “cool” and “innovative.” Only the latter, of course, can be (referring to our definition) “conforming to fact.”
But Apple’s “authenticity” took a turn in the glaring spotlight last week, with its 2-bar/4-bar letter. Read it here. It is the most preposterous representation of “cool” and “innovative” you’ll encounter this year, maybe this decade: the top brand for innovation declaring it made a simple math error.
Check the logic. If the iPhone 4 was showing 4 bars when it should have been showing 2 (because the so-called formula was wrong), then it seems impossible that it ever could have shown a full set of bars, because that would have required a calculation that resulted in a signal strength two times the maximum. Yet no one has reported that they never saw a full set of bars on his or her iPhone 4. That sort of bullshit is not “cool.”
To top it off, the letter was signed “Apple.” No name, no title, no department. Just Apple. How authentic.
If brand authenticity really existed, the sale of iPhones would have dropped to zero on July 2nd.