Guilty pleasures: is the 'authenticity bubble' is about to burst?
Guilty pleasures: is the 'authenticity bubble' is about to burst?
A view from Daniela Walker

The hipster is dead, let's start an anti-authenticity movement

In 2010 the 'hipster movement' created a consumer group looking for craft and authenticity but brands have diluted the meaning. Marketers need to find a new language, argues Daniela Walker, trend forecaster at the Future Laboratory.

Craft is a word that used to mean something. It meant an activity that involved a skill using your hands. But it has been co-opted by brands and strategists to sell us a story about authenticity, which has diluted its meaning. 

Now the authenticity bubble is about to burst.

It is a bubble that brands, creative agencies, marketers and, yes, even trend forecasters have been living in for the past five years.

In 2010, it was novel to show behind the scenes of your brand, revealing the handcraft and dedication behind each stitch, but in 2015 these heritage craft tales feel tired. 

A call to arms – we ask you to ban buzzwords such as heritage, experience, curated and authentic from the brand lexicon

You could argue that the story of authenticity became one that brands wanted to engage in following the rise of the hipster at the turn of the 21st century.

We forget that before we made fun of hipsters, we wanted to be them. We idealised the young and the fearless who quit their jobs to become makers and wanderers – those who wanted to create rather than consume.

The Future Laboratory even tracked the movement in our Rurban Revolution macrotrend of 2010, where we looked at how urbanites were embracing the principles of rural living, with a focus on all things hyperlocal and small-scale. But since then the hipster has been declared dead.

The typology has become a caricature and the terms once associated with it – craft, artisan, making – have also become cartoonish. When McDonald’s boasts about artisanal chicken (complete with "artisan chicken" and "artisan roll") you know the message has gone awry.

Anti-authenticity marketing

We are now proposing a world of Anti-authenticity Marketing – a call to arms to stop using tropes that have no place in the commercial world. We ask you, and ourselves, to ban buzzwords such as heritage, experience, curated and authentic from the brand lexicon.

Authenticity – or this essential idea of genuineness – remains important of course. Anti-authenticity is not about shunning the principle itself, but all of the visual language and buzzword overkill that has thwarted it.

Companies need to focus on the present and the future - it requires a shift in mind-set from heritage to legacy

In the past five years, many brands have fallen into the trap of emphasising heritage. This exploration of the past has been seen from brands as diverse as Hermès to Citizen watches. And while it was once intriguing, companies now need to focus on the present and the future, not solely on their past. It requires a shift in mind-set from heritage to legacy.

Take Apple, for example. You could argue that there is a company that looks to the future, without any reminiscence over their past endeavours.

Who remembers what the iPhone 2 looks like? Sure, Steve Jobs has left a legacy that is imbued within the brand, but it is one that Apple fans promote more than the company itself.

Words that used to resonate are beginning to feel hollow

Or to look to the fashion industry, where heritage marketing runs rampant, meaning that companies such as Prada standout. Founded in 1913, the brand rarely harks back to its founding father – rather it focuses on artful collaborations that keep it culturally relevant.

Similarly, when relatively unknown designer Alessandro Michele took the helm as creative director at Gucci, there were murmurs of suspicion of what he would do with the house, but he has since been a runway success moving away from Gucci’s previous incarnation to create a new aesthetic – the Gucci geek.

As words that used to resonate begin to feel hollow, brands are going to have to find a new language, one that doesn’t rely on the aesthetic or ethos of others, but embraces their own identity. Instead of McDonald’s offering artisanal chicken, perhaps it should focus on why people love it – a guilty pleasure that should be indulged in. 

The aesthetic of authenticity will continue to shift and change, and as the handmade and crafted become co-opted and mass-produced, brands will move onto to a new language.

But as brands begin to understand that authenticity is no longer a value that they can rely on, they will have to identify their own core offer that feels truthful and appropriate, rather than strained attempts at jumping on the latest bandwagon.