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Why marketers must beware ‘inauthentic authenticity’

By Charli Edwards | Creative Director

Cavendish Consulting

|

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September 8, 2023 | 7 min read

We’ve all heard the call for ‘authenticity’ in content marketing, but do we really understand what authenticity means – and how to authentically use it? Cavendish Consulting’s Charli Edwards investigates.

The head of a fake flamingo

What's authentic, and what's inauthentically authentic? Charli Edwards investigates / Rafael Garcin via Unsplash

An unfortunate consequence of the push for authenticity on social media is the rise of 'inauthentic authenticity': people pretending (or believing) that they are being genuine when their stance or opinion actually has little truth behind it.

This isn’t just about putting on false airs; it's a serious issue with far-reaching implications regarding consumer trust and behavior. Marketers look to develop meaningful messages about their product based on what they see on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. And business leaders use social to build an honest picture upon which to make corporate decisions.

Inauthentic authenticity is no longer something businesses can ignore if they want success.

What is inauthentic authenticity?

Inauthentic authenticity is what happens when people try too hard to come across as authentic. It’s the act of faking or copying something considered genuine. It can lead us to believe that something is authentic when it isn't.

Inauthentic authenticity can also dilute a true cultural or societal tradition. Recognizing when something is truly authentic (versus when it's been manufactured for the sake of trendiness or profit) is crucial in maintaining genuine cultural practices and traditions.

Inauthentic authenticity in leadership

There’s a growing interest in the concept of authenticity among business leaders. It's become the buzzword for many; today, it seems, everyone strives to be ‘authentic’.

The inauthentic authenticity theory is a new way of looking at this notion. It asserts that while leaders may believe they are being authentic, they are often, actually, following a predefined script that they believe will make them seem more genuine.

This theory points to the fact that some leaders are doubly inauthentic by trying to appear authentic.

Tackling inauthentic authenticity means challenging leaders to examine the motivations and intentions behind their actions to prevent coming off as insincere or fake. Authenticity is essential for any great leader, but getting there requires honest self-reflection and sincere motives.

Why do people practice inauthentic authenticity?

Under inauthentic authenticity, ironically enough, people deliberately try to appear more authentic than they actually are. Why do they bother?

One common motivation is the desire to fit in and be liked by others. We feel pressure to conform to the expectations of our social groups. Sometimes, this means presenting ourselves in a certain way that may not be entirely true to who we are.

There’s also the desire to maintain a certain image or reputation. This can be especially true in professional settings, where we may need to project a certain persona to succeed. Whatever the motivations may be, it's important to recognize that inauthentic authenticity ultimately prevents us from truly (authentically!) connecting with others.

The consequences of inauthentic authenticity

We want to be true to ourselves and feel like we live authentically. But trying too hard to portray an image of authenticity that is not genuine can have serious consequences, both personally and in the broader context of society.

Trying to act a certain way to fit in with a certain group or demographic can create a superficiality that undermines the true value of authenticity. It can lead to feelings of loneliness and a lack of connection with others, and negative effects on mental health. From a societal perspective, inauthentic authenticity can lead to a lack of diversity, as people feel pressured to conform to certain standards. Cultivating a culture where genuine authenticity, rather than superficial or inauthentic behavior, is valued: that’s incredibly important.

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‘Be you, but only the good bits’

We’re consistently told to ‘be ourselves,’ but also to showcase only the good bits of our personality. These conflicting messages can make navigating inclusivity and fostering genuine relationships difficult. Inauthenticity in inclusivity can lead to a culture where people hide behind a facade, and genuine connections are lost.

While putting your best foot forward is necessary, being truthful about your struggles and vulnerabilities is also essential. Only when we embrace our authentic selves (the good, the bad, and the ugly) can we create meaningful relationships and contribute to a more inclusive society.

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