By Freya Vinten

In the second article of this series, we focus on:

  • The consumer need for authenticity from brands
  • Explore how consumer expectations of ‘real’ have been shaped by recent various events and macro forces
  • What authenticity means to consumers today


Read the introduction to this series and discover our unique Happiness model here.

2014: Making a Mark

In 2014, we remained in the final grips of the recession and were reeling from the horsemeat scandal. Trust was broken. Consumers believed it was consumerist habits that had got us there in the first place and had turned their backs on big business and mass produced products.

Instead, our craving for authenticity came in the form of anything homespun, craft and artisan, and a fixation on provenance; cue beards, tattooed baristas, checked shirts, vinyl. The Great British Bake Off had exploded onto screens, Etsy became a billion dollar business, and shabby chic ruled the roost. It was all about self-sufficiency and doing it yourself – consumers were crafting, brewing, and planting with passion. Authenticity existed in making a mark through self-expression and we looked to brands to help us foster this creativity in all its forms.

2015: Keep it Real

But brands rapidly cottoned on to the marketing power of craft which soon imploded as Domino’s Pizza, Burger King and the Tesco-owned Harris & Hoole coffee shop signalled ‘peak artisan’. Artisan claims were now a laughably transparent ploy, but the need for brands and products with a genuine story behind them which affirmed quality remained.

2015 ushered in a distance from the recession and a move from short-termism to a focus on the future. Consumers became more concerned with their health and the environment, craving simple packaging, traditional materials, time-honoured techniques, and quality ingredients.

Savvy consumers harnessed a new approach to consumption, stripping things back to the elements that really mattered – modest pleasures, quality products; the way things used to be. Elaborate, fluffy back stories felt too laborious and try hard – something to be sceptical of. This new sentiment towards authenticity demanded that brands cut the hype and focus on what was really important to consumers in order to demonstrate value for money.

2016: Nice & Wholesome

As the wellness movement swept the globe, health came to mean natural and unmessed with. Anxious consumers rejected an industrial system that appeared increasingly damaging to health, and instead embraced clean label, single ingredient and small batch products. Such goods grown and produced by independents were now aspirational and held a premium, and bigger brands raced to keep up, but by their very nature fell at the first hurdle.

Well-informed consumers had become familiar with truly honest, authentic products, and brands faced scrutiny from increased curiosity over what we were consuming, where it was produced and what it contained. A number of scandals including Tesco’s fake farms and the sheer amount of ‘authentic’ products cemented chalkboard lettering, hand drawn illustrations and brown paper as mere design codes.

In its place, branding went retro. Uncertainty around the impending Brexit vote was brewing, and a number of brands such as The Co-op and Natwest seemed to dig into their design archives in search of reaffirming their identity. Leveraging heritage and simplicity breathed new life into authenticity, and classic, basic design was back.

2017: Reassuringly Familiar

In a post-truth world where confidence has plummeted and everything must be fact checked, we’re seeing consumers becoming more selective in their information sources and where they place their trust. In this environment, value, quality and credibility become increasingly important as we focus our consumption around what makes us feel secure. Authenticity now is about what makes us sense we’re in a safe pair of hands.

A second factor impacting trust is the amount of choice we must wade through. Faced with endless choice and cheap alternatives, consumers are looking for comfort and familiarity, seeking shortcuts to trust and quality. When we don’t know who to trust, where do we go? Back to the big, obvious, everyday brands – because branded authenticity cannot be faked.

We spoke to our Illume Guides (our community of leading-edge consumers) and discovered an emerging need for brands which signify steadiness and familiarity in an increasingly uncertain world. Wise to marketing spin, consumers seek a ‘what you see is what you get’ assurance. This is creating an opportunity for brands to leverage their backstory, and classic, trusted and reliable status.

But where next?

It won’t be long before hedonic adaptation kicks in and we begin to welcome a new wave, a new feeling, a new mood. Eyes will be on the snap election, state of the economy how well brands maintain their integrity for clues as to what will unfold.

Watch this video below to hear how authenticity is currently playing out in the life of one of our Manchester-based Illume Guides: https://youtu.be/D5WAIUHjG4c

By Freya Vinten, Senior Culture & Trends Consultant, Join the Dots

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