The Gen Y definition of Brand Authenticity

Last week I introduced our international Gen Y community and the 5 components of the InSites CRUSH Branding model (focussing on the first component C for Coolness). Today we move to the R of Realness. In our experience economy, brand authenticity became more important. Not only because authenticity helps brands to differentiate from the many alternatives but also because consumers value ‘realness’ in a world flooded with imitations and staged experiences. To the new consumers of Generation Y, the classic interpretation of authenticity: origin, history and heritage, as defined by Gilmore and Pine in the book ‘Authenticity. What Consumers Really Want’, is less appealing and less relevant.
In most cases young people are not even aware of these types of brand personality claims. To them, the modern interpretation of authenticity: being honest to yourself (the brand’s DNA), to youth (transparency) and to society (CSR) is more in line with their expectations fed by their education. (Source: Even Better than the Real Thing)
In our global qualitative exploration of the authenticity concept, both history and heritage of brands were only seen as ‘real’ when the projected brand culture fitted with the DNA of the brand. For instance, the Japanese retailer Muji is known for its simple and beautifully designed products. The brand’s culture is distinguished by its minimalistic design with emphasis on recycling and avoiding waste in production and packaging. The retailer has a no-logo and no-brand policy and the name Muji is derived from the first part of ‘Mujirushi Ryohin’, which can be translated as ‘non-branded quality goods’. Muji shops have a Japanese feel which you sense the minute you enter a shop. All items are plain and pure, away from show-off and just humble and polite, just like the Japanese culture. Another example is the hippie American spirit and heritage of the Ben & Jerry’s brand, that even today – when it’s part of the multinational Unilever – is translated not only in product, variety names and packaging, but also in the campaigns and CSR programs. This consistency is an important aspect of authenticity. Dunkin’ Donuts and Budweiser for instance were seen as brands staying real for ages by simply delivering the same simple products and messages. When youth sees a fit between what a brand is claiming and its historic DNA or an existing culture or environment, it is not perceived as fake but as real.
Classic occasions are real because of what they represent, for instance the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre is “real” because it’s a real tree but mainly because it represents so many years of shared memories and emotions; it became the icon of Christmas in New York. Real emotions support brand realness. Riding a Harley Davidson motorbike is more than just the cliché American stereotype of freedom. It is feeling the emotions of the wind whipping through your hair and the ability to take in all of nature’s beauty around you. Another aspect of realness is being democratic and open, available for everybody, not just for elites. One respondent in Brazil made the comparison between Copacabana beach and Ipanema beach. They are both in Rio de Janeiro. The first is known from songs and films and is told to be the ideal perfect beach. But the latter, just around the corner from Copacabana, is definitely the real thing for youth. Ipanema beach gathers people from all social classes, all sexual orientations and everywhere in the world.
To quote one participant: “The walls separating the tribes on the beach are invisible and can be crossed anytime you want. The only passport you need to enter the area from a different group is simply the smile on your face. Ipanema summarizes the authentic carioca spirit: it’s democratic, easy going and… marvellous.” Levi’s curve ID jeans offering perfect fitting jeans for all sizes and female curves were mentioned as an example of how brands can be democratic as well.
Respect for nature and the environment was also mentioned as a source of ‘realness’. LUSH Cosmetics for instance takes care of youth’s health AND the environment by only using natural and organic ingredients: fruit, vegetables, essential oils and no animal fats. They are against animal testing and their packaging is 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable. LUSH is a supporter of protest groups and animal rights operations and has introduced the ‘Charity Pot’ body lotion of which the full purchase price goes to charity.
Keep an eye on our blog the coming weeks for the next 3 dimensions of our CRUSH Branding Model or read more articles/updates on Generation Y on the How Cool Brands Stay Hot website.

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