Authenticity in Advertising

Banana Republic Heritage I took this picture in a Banana Republic store in Toronto this morning. This sign on the wall caught my eye, mostly because I’ve been reading my pal Andrew Potter’s wonderful new book, The Authenticity Hoax.

Note the explicit claim of authenticity, in this ad. As Andrew’s book points out, the language of authenticity is increasingly common in advertising today. It’s interesting to ask just what the claim to “authenticity” means in an ad like this, or in any other ad. Here, does it mean these dresses are historical reproductions? Surely not. So there’s no question of interrogating Banana Republic on the accuracy of either their styles or the accuracy of their claims. So what does “authenticity” refer to, here? It seems to be a straightforward attempt to tap into the widely-shared (but, as Andrew argues, ultimately misguided) desire to flee all that is superficial and phony, and get “back” to something more “real.”

Two further things are worth pointing out. One is that here, as is so often the case, finding authenticity seems to require buying something that is a self-proclaimed rip-off from fashions of days gone by. You get “real” through imitation. The other is that Banana Republic (among many others) recognizes that they can’t get away with simply doing something authentic…consumers actually need to be told these clothes are authentic, in order to recognize them as such.

(Watch here for an interview with Andrew Potter, about authenticity and business ethics, coming soon.)

1 comment so far

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