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Day Three: Authentic: Is it really, real?

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~ by Aaron Keller

We wove an early thread into our posts for the FUSE conference by picking a word from the day and stitching together a story. We've explored words like Hero, Nothing, Re-Imagine, Empathy, and others before the conference. There are a few we've avoided for what might be obvious reasons (design, innovation, brand, and even authentic). Sometimes we worry these words are used so much they will travel toward a desert of meaning. We just didn't want to contribute to the trip.

Yet the word authenticity is hard to pass up. It is like looking at the edge of a mile deep cavern and wanting to jump. Are we suicidal for wanting to explore the word authentic? Yes, no or maybe so. Dan Wallace shared some insight into the word for his post. If you read his post you'd find a mutual friend, Joe Pine and his quote.

As my colleague Joe Pine says, 'authenticity is an epistemological impossibility and a phenomenological reality.' 

Dan does a nice job unpacking the word and giving this reader some "fear of use" when it comes to the word. Joe Pine has a nicely shaped and finely packed noggin so he can take on the word authentic for an entire book. For me it feels like a bit of navel gazing with the goal of finding some lint from a 70s shag rug in my distance past. Odd, yes, but history does seem to connect itself to authenticity.

So, Authentic: This is a grizzly bear of a word to confront after a design conference where it was handed out verbally like salmon swimming upstream in the spring (plentiful).

Here are some of my views on the word.

1. Starting with the definition: of undisputed origin, genuine; it would appear every brand should be authentic as the alternative is fake, knock-off or of disputed origin.

2. We seem to have a legal system of intellectual property laws to support the effort to be authentic and protect a unique quality.

3. Why so much fuss over the word authentic? Perhaps it has something to do when the word becomes a philosophy: authenticity. This has many more layers of meaning and challenges to convey authenticity in visual and written language.

4. We know trust is the foundation of any brand and the trust in institutions continues to crumble at significant rates. And, with brands being the face of institutions, perhaps we can start to see why authentic is so troubling.

5. Brands are an extension of human beings, started by founders and teams but inevitably managed by people who may not embody the brand philosophy. But, brands gain authenticity with time, as they have staying power and can be seen as more genuine because they've been around.

6. This is where the word fake comes in and consumers start to see the team managing the brand cut the edges of authentic to find more ways to earn more from the brand.

There we have it.

Two forces working against each other, which is a common thing in the universe. The age and origin of a brand contributing to authenticity and in opposition, the management team making decisions which detract from the origin, story and eventually authenticity.

Things to think about as you manage a brand. Not just who are your audiences, but what do you mean to them and what do they mean to you? How can you keep your unique qualities but move forward and age appropriately with the culture around your brand?

These are challenging questions to answer for talented teams both inside and outside an organization. Be thoughtful and design honestly. We (the people) appreciate the effort.

Aaron Keller
Capsule Design

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