Has Authenticity in Marketing Jumped the Shark?

By Jake Sorofman | March 4, 2014 | 1 Comment

There’s a lot of talk these days about authenticity versus transparency as the prevailing value for brand storytelling. Cynics suggest that authenticity and marketing make strange bedfellows, two ideas forever divided by conflicting goals. After all, authenticity, by definition, speaks truth without agenda. And marketing, as an instrument of commercial persuasion, is agenda writ large.

Cynics say that marketers’ application of authenticity is, in and of itself, inauthentic. They point to examples like Dove Real Beauty Sketches, one of the most successful viral campaigns in history, as the rare exception to this rule. More often than not, they say, authenticity in marketing looks hollow and false. In its attempt to reach the heart, it lands squarely in the stomach, turning it vaguely queasy.

Enter transparency, the brash, but believable cousin to authenticity. Cynics say that authenticity, which despite its guileless appearance, is really just an agenda wrapped in an earnest sugary coating. Transparency, on the other hand, may fail to warm the cockles of audiences’ hearts, but it succeeds in earning their trust with no-spin straight talk.

But transparency, itself, is also driven by agenda. This spin-free attempt to dazzle audiences with honesty is often just a judo flip designed to disarm.

So suggests a fascinating article by Heather Havrilesky in this week’s New York Times Magazine. It explores the Lego Movie, a surprisingly well-reviewed kid’s movie that represents what may well be the post-modern frontier for modern marketing. My kids haven’t dragged me to this particular movie (yet), so I can only make inferences. But it appears to be an infomercial wrapped in a storyline and pretending to be nothing but precisely that.

This absence of pretence—this agenda laid bare—is the subversive conceit. And somehow it seems to work. Haverilesky says, “In the movie’s final moments, big tears stream down my face. I am weeping over a 90-minute infomercial.”

Crocodile tears. Now that, dear reader, is persuasive testimony for the power of transparency.

1 Comment
  1. 5 March 2014 at 7:33 pm
    Nicholas Simko says:

    Interesting connection between the Lego movie (which I heard was fun even for adults) and transparency. The most recent set of Transformers movies falls into the same bucket as it is a 90 minute General Motors commercial wrapped in action scenes and an adolescent coming of age.

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