Has Authenticity Lost its Meaning?

Artisanal. Craft. Yada Yada. 

Brooklyn location, hipster image, curious backstory and bespoke packaging have become givens of the maker-movement. The products are handmade with locally sourced ingredients and are “lovingly” created. Whereas scale and uniformity are the hallmarks of big brands, craft businesses, in contrast, differentiate themselves through limited production, workmanship and ethos. Consumers assume these products are more authentic and unique than what’s available on the shelf, and they like the idea of supporting the little guy. Because of this, they are often willing to pay more. (Plus, the stuff is somehow infinitely cooler.) 

Yet, words such as artisanal “have lost all sense of meaning, value, truth and descriptive weight,” says Martin Raymond, Editor-in-Chief at London lifestyle and consumer insight consultancy The Future Laboratory, which elaborated on anti-authenticity marketing at a recent trend briefing event in London. “We no longer believe that artisanal means what it says — recently I was privileged to use ‘artisanal’ toilet paper — nor do we trust the stories, claims or narratives behind them. How, for example, can a large multinational mass-produce artisanal beer or ice cream?” 

The craft, whatever-to-whatever movement has become absurd. A sheep-to-sweater sweater anyone? A hemp-to- prom dress frock? A Wendy’s Artisan Egg Sandwich? Dominos Artisan Pizza? A 7-Eleven Artisan Melt sandwich? And don’t forget about artisanal toast, crispy bread with "small batch" toppings hawked by hip restaurants. (I thought I was eating artisanal toast when my Mom made cookie cutter shapes in Wonder Bread.) 

In June 2015, many residents applauded when a Brooklyn deli owner, whose rent was more than doubled, began selling “artisanal roach bombs” for several times the normal price in an ironic fundraising gesture. Instead of claiming to be authentic and artisanal, Raymond says, “brands should make simple, realistic claims. The anti-authenticity backlash does not mean that products cannot be authentic, artisanal or crafted, but like true luxury, such benefits need to be apparent, manifest and implicit, rather than explicit, overt and requiring description.” 

So what does this mean to marketers?

Making a superficial claim or slapping on a superficial label to be on-trend is the surest way to be off-trend. 

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