Sep 25, 2008

Authenticity Is The New Storytelling

Around this time last year, you couldn't go three paragraphs in any marketing or advertising blog post, article or conference report without encountering the word "storytelling."

No one was quite sure what it meant, but the new meaning most decidedly did not refer to a librarian's animated recounting of a Lithuanian fable to a room full of kindergartners.

Rather, it referred to some "story" that each and every brand allegedly had. One that consumers were allegedly jonesing to hear about.

Its most common usage was as a way to justify campaigns that had diverse elements in different media-- in other words, the fact that the microsite (remember those?) had nothing to do with the print ad was just "storytelling" rather than incompetence.

These days, "storytelling" has been replaced by "authentic" as the buzzword-du-jour. Everything that consumers touch is "authentic." Every vain attempt by a brand to hide the fact that it's behind a marketing effort is done in the name of making it more "authentic." As is every vain attempt at interaction: allowing consumer feedback-- no matter how many restrictive registration pages I need to go through, no matter how awkward the interface is-- is all about being "authentic."

Which is not to say that authenticity is a bad thing. It certainly is not. And it truly is something brands should strive for. But rather than creating authenticity, most of them are creating fauxthenticity - a word my friend Ian Schafer coined the other day - because true authenticity scares them: it requires giving up way more control that they're comfortable with.

But as the legendary David Ogilvy once said "the consumer isn't a moron, she's your wife." And the consumer knows full well when the experience is "fauxthentic" rather than "authentic."

So you can bandy about the word all you want. But unless you deliver, it's all just a lot of hot air.

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