The Recommendation Age (Part 2): The Law of Authenticity

| March 15, 2014

authentic_business_imageLast month, we began a series of articles on the five laws of The Recommendation Age, starting with the first law, the Law of Consumer Confidence. The Recommendation Age is the natural follow-up to the Information Age. Instead of letting brands tell them what to think and choose, consumers are going to friends, family, online reviewers, social media, and thousands of other outlets for a recommendation. The second law, The Law of Authenticity, is the cornerstone of everything that can make the Recommendation Age a bonanza for brands and marketers.

The Law of Authenticity
No doubt, you’ve heard that companies “have to be authentic” on social media and in the digital sphere. But what does it really mean to be “authentic”? And what’s the difference between authenticity and good customer service?

Authenticity v. “Doing What It Takes” to Turn a Profit
A certain degree of transparency – depending on the size of the company, industry, reputation, and a host of other factors – is almost necessary for success. McDonald’s is a company that’s starting to lead the way in this direction for larger corporations. As Saeid Fard writes for The Huffington Post:

When asked ‘Why does your food look different in advertising than it does in stores?’, the McDonalds Q&A team created a video sharing how their burgers are prepared for ads and effectively admit that while they dress up their food for the media, the exact same ingredients are used. We all knew this already. Hearing McDonalds be authentic about the shortcomings we were all fully aware of doesn’t hurt our perception of their brand – it strengthens it.

Fard’s argument is that real authenticity is being okay with discussing some of the unpleasant facts about your company. Don’t swear that you’ll change or sugarcoat your message. Just be honest about the facts – facts that your consumers could get elsewhere – and explain them as best you can. While McDonald’s isn’t addressing the hardball questions (yet), the company is going above and beyond the bare minimum threshold of “authenticity” that’s expected of them.

The Recommendation Age Killed Image Management
Prior to The Recommendation Age, “image management” could help fix a lot of authenticity-related problems. The public’s not buying your spiel? Bring in the image management specialists to help spin you in a new direction!

In The Recommendation Age, it doesn’t work that way. Jamie Monberg of Hornall Anderson makes it clear this way: “If a brand says ‘we want to be seen as X,’ the correct response from a marketer is ‘Are you actually X?’ or ‘Then go be X,’ because no amount of positioning can swing the needle if you aren’t actually delivering the experience.”

Monberg’s primary example of wannabe-brand v. actual-brand is Mountain Dew v. Red Bull. The two brands have a near-identical product, but while the former wants to be exciting, energetic, and extreme, the latter simply is. In short, Red Bull is an authentic brand: you can see them for who they are across every platform. They don’t have to tell you. Mountain Dew, on the other hand, wants their image to come across a certain way, but the effort falls flat.

This Graphic Sums It All Up…

Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising report (pub. 4.10.2012) sums it all up quite nicely:


Consumers trust recommendations from the people they know more than anything else – by a long shot. Does your brand offer authenticity in social media – and through all advertising outlets, for that matter – that would outperform the trust levels indicated in the above graphic? Or do you offer the absolute bare minimum of false “authenticity” just to turn a profit?

Category: Management

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Email | Website | Bob Hutchins (Franklin, TN) runs Buzzplant (, A 12+ year old Internet marketing agency targeting the faith/family market. His team was an integral part of the online campaign for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, Soul Surfer, and many other movies, books, music releases, and events. His client/partner roster includes Time-Life, Sony Pictures, General Motors, Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Warner Brothers, Thomas Nelson Publishers and Zondervan. He is co-founder of The Faith-Based Marketing Association and Ground Force Network, and has been featured on Fox News, MSNBC, in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, INC Magazine, Fortune Magazine, MarketingVOX, American City Business Journals, Dallas Morning News, and on various television/radio media. He is also the co-author of Faith Based Marketing, published by John Wiley and Sons, and his second book- The Recommendation Age. He also teaches Social Media Marketing to MBA students at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.