I want to talk about authenticity less and I want to talk about integrity more because I think we are using them interchangeably…I even use it as a shorthand and I’m going to point it out when I see more and more when I see this thing this idea of authenticity as this thing we’re supposed to be striving for. I want to talk about why I think that’s wrong and why I think it’s part of the problem in politics. Jon Lovett — Pod Saves America
When I heard Jon Lovett say that about politics it struck a chord with me. We entrepreneurs, brands and even individuals are constantly told that we need to be “authentic”. We are told that the world is full of charlatans trying to take advantage of people and the only way to fight against these “poseurs” as we used to say in high school is to look for authenticity. An idea that I always found to be…well inauthentic. Because what is authenticity anyways?
Authentic used to be used in relationship to something fake. i.e. a brand new Louis Vuitton bag cannot be bought on Canal Street. Or anywhere online other than Louis Vuitton. But the term has become so overused that when someone claims to be “authentic” it’s simply a subjective self-assessment. We all know the authentic ass — who considers all bad behavior justified as “just keeping it real” and will proudly claim the label authentic.
Consider other less than desirable examples of authenticity:
- When Donald Trump tweets one thing one day and then the complete opposite the next no one will accuse him of lack of authenticity.
- When a mother scolds a child by saying “behave!” and the child retorts “I am behaving! Like Myself!” they too are indeed being authentic.
- Even the how could they be so clueless Pepsi/Kendall Jenner ad debacle could be argued as authentically PEPSI: A huge corporate brand best known for selling carbonated chemical sugar in ocean polluting plastic bottles — is it really surprising that they would buy an influencer to use in a tone-deaf ad that tries to cash in on a cultural moment? I would argue that it authentically fits within their ethos. And thus the failure isn’t one of authenticity it’s one of integrity.
Integrity means doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. It’s having that other old fashioned attribute, character, and has an accountability that authenticity lacks.
And guess what? People care. A recent survey revealed that 97 percent of global consumers expect the ethical use of technology from brands alongside customer-focused innovation. The “next coolest thing” is no longer interesting if it mines your data or poisons our environment.
Going further according to findings from the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, “More than nine-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause”.
You could argue that companies can fake integrity as well, and to some degree that’s true. There will also be those who are a bit more questionable: H&M’s attempt at eco really doesn’t do much for the fact that they are still a fast fashion company with all the issues that implies. Nor do salads make a fast food restaurant suddenly healthy. But if you dig a little deeper there are some amazing companies built with integrity and it’s reflected from how they treat their workers to how they treat the planet. Patagonia and Eileen Fisher are two that easily come to mind but I think they’re just the beginning of a major shift. More and more we are learning to ask questions and demand transparency instead of just accepting what’s given. We’ve learned to do this from experience: discovering our information has been sold without our consent or that chemicals in our clothing is making us sick has broken any trust or assumption that a company has our best interests in mind. The result is those with clear and positive values are that much more attractive.
It’s not hard to be authentic. We shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back for authenticity. We should expect more from ourselves and the companies we support. We should expect integrity.