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August 10, 2023
Luke Brown

How Authentic Is Your Brand Authenticity?

Over the past few weeks, a few things have been playing on my mind. Elon Musk’s rebranding and restructuring of Twitter, the Barbie fever that gripped most marketers and consumers, and the ACCC’s finding that 57 percent of the Australian brands it reviewed are greenwashing with misleading statements.

What did they have in common? They each begged the question of how authentically brands are behaving.

George Orwell warned us of the threat of doublespeak in his novel 1984. Doublespeak was Orwell’s way of showing how politicians use vague language and euphemism to obscure the truth. They say one thing, but really mean another.

But doublespeak isn’t just limited to politics. Business is equally as guilty. We all know the phrases, circle-back, moving forward, and restructuring are all good examples. And eventually, the doublespeak leaks out to customers in the form of our marketing efforts. It can cause not only reputational damage to brands but can also get people voting with their wallets. Coles and Woolies have so far just suffered embarrassment at the collapse of RedCycle and their secret mountains of plastic. Coles are ‘apologising for the inconvenience’. But are they actually sorry for the inconvenience, which belongs to them not their customers, or are they saying it because it’s much softer than admitting that they were ordered to dump 5,200 tonnes of plastic into landfill.

The perception is that consumers often take things on face value. But as we saw with Twitter, now X, when customers find out they’ve been lied to, they’re outraged.

Speaking of Twitter, um... I mean X, Elon's been getting a lot of heat. Scott Galloway called him out for ‘crash(ing) the civility of the discourse and incinerat(ing) 17 years of brand equity in 10 months’. A damning indictment, and alternative platforms are vying for an audience seeking open discourse. Threads’ user count is now around 122M and counting.

And then there is Barbie. And all the collabs and partnerships we saw. Aside from the lazy pinkification of 100’s of brands – building little memorable connection, losing any brand impact in a blink of Margot Robbie’s eye – many felt disingenuous. Have you already forgotten the pink burgers? A gingham dress at Zara?

Ok, so Margot wore the Zara dress in the movie. Initially a smart move. Yet this is a movie about, among many things, female empowerment. Zara is a company whose workers in Spain started the year with strike over pay and conditions and who has been dogged by allegations of poor pay and working conditions at factories around the world making pink dresses. Did they truly believe that customers would be hoodwinked by a pink dress?

Authenticity comes from within. From being practiced internally. From putting in place sustainable support structures and practices for employees and customers to be an embodiment of your commitment.

At Revlon here in Australia, they’ve changed their social content guidelines to be more supportive of women, to move away from what can be a toxic environment for people. A solid first step, and one that’s genuinely come from within their team. Authentic authenticity. No doublespeak about it.

So are you authentically being authentic? 57% is a damning scorecard that suggests there is plenty room for improvement across our industry.


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