Faking the biscuit

They say sincerity is everything, and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Nowhere is this more true than in marketing and Time magazine discusses the seemingly related concept of ‘synthetic authenticity’ – the feeling that a product is the ‘real deal’, which is supposedly going to be one of the big commercial trends in the near future.

And how does a cutting edge company make a product seem authentic? Well, it’s not really clear from the article, but it seems to involve some sort of emotional attachment to the product which prompts associations with a sense of community and trust.

Two hundred years ago, agrarian Americans decided whether to buy a hoe mainly on the basis of whether it was available and affordable. But in the past 20 years, a school of behavioral economists has emerged to point out the obvious: consumers with higher living standards often make stupid, irrational decisions. We don’t simply look at price and quality; we decide how we feel about a refrigerator or even a pair of socks before we buy.

Authenticity is a way of understanding this concept… Gilmore and Pine give a name to this ephemeral dimension of consumer behavior: in addition to the established dimensions of availability, price and quality, we are buying according to authenticity.

In some instances, it seems to be a way of making the commercial relationship between buyer and seller seems less like a commercial relationship and more of an implicit partnership of friends.

In others, it seems to rely on the idea that the consumer is accessing some sort of underlying ‘true’ experience that cannot be captured by modern technology.

The ideas are based on a recent book by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore who started the ‘experience economy’ movement (‘sell experiences, not products’) some years back.

One can’t help but wonder whether they were inspired by Philip K Dick’s alternative reality novel The Man in the High Castle. One character, Mr Wyndham-Matson, is involved in selling fake antiques to unsuspecting punters.

The thing that makes the object valuable, suggests Wyndham-Matson, is ‘historicity’ – the perception that the object has been involved in something historically significant.

He notes that if an antique gun has gone through a famous battle “it’s the same as if it hadn’t, unless you know“, with the implication that the feeling of history (and dare we say, authenticity), is as much to do with the smoke and mirrors of persuasion as it is to do with the properties of the product.

Link to Time article ‘Synthetic Authenticity’.

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