The Transparency Angle

What’s even real these days? It may or may not be a question that’s crossed your mind recently, but it is causing a stir in companies and ad agencies.  Transparency and authenticity are in, and flashy propaganda is on its way out.  It’s no surprise that businesses continue to refine the concept of authenticity for the purpose of marketing strategy.  What could be more lucrative than to convince consumers that a product can bridge the disconnect between modern civilization and reality, especially in a society constantly seeking meaning?

Chick-fil-A is one company that is now taking the advertising approach of transparency, inviting customers for behind-the-counter tours at all of their locations.  This blazes the path for their upcoming menu improvements, such as salads with more nutrient-rich ingredients focused on harnessing the concept of authenticity in their food offerings.

However, restaurant chains aren’t the only ones using this strategy.  Dove, a brand owned by Unilever, started the “real beauty” campaign in 2004 in the hopes of expanding the definition of beauty and promoting self-esteem in women of all shapes and sizes.  This week the company released a video to tell women “you’re more beautiful than you think” by comparing how women view their own beauty with how strangers view them.  This type of advertising goes beyond showing the consumer how authentic a product is; it makes the audience consider the authenticity behind their own self-image.

The Authenticity Hoax, a book by Andrew Potter, takes apart the ideal of the “authenticity” that we’re all striving for.  He looks at the areas of our lives where we feel connected to experiences, the world, and nature, and how society has lost the true meaning of authenticity in the process of seeking it out.  In his conclusion he says, “we are trying to find at least one sliver of the world, one fragment of experience, that is innocent, spontaneous, genuine, and creative, and not tainted by commercialization, calculation, and self-interest.”

The minute authenticity became a brand in and of itself, people wanted to have it, and companies are more than happy to sell it.  Dove may highlight the reality of the average woman versus the size zero models in many other ads, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capitalizing on some other ideal.  Authenticity is the new thing to have.  The problem is, just as Potter points out, authenticity is pretty much a false goal.  Chick-fil-A can show its customers where they make the food, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s life is more real because they ate a chicken sandwich that wasn’t frozen.

Ally Walton