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The marketing literature has defined authenticity as a perceptual quality that consumers attribute to a brand. Following this definition, research has sought to identify the essential features that brands, business, or celebrities possess, which drive these perceptions of authenticity and conversely, to identify the contrasting features that generate perceptions of inauthenticity. We argue that this conventional approach, while making intuitive sense, is unable to effectively grapple with the cultural complexity manifest in the process of “authenticating” a brand. Using semiotic theory, we develop a framework that marketing managers can use to analyze the cultural contradictions of authenticity that can undermine their authenticity claims.
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Advertising and Promotion; Brand Management; Consumer Behavior; Marketing Strategy
Thompson Craig J., Ankita Kumar (2022), “Analyzing the Cultural Contradictions of Authenticity: Theoretical and Managerial Insights from the Market Logic of Conscious Capitalism,” Journal of Marketing, 86 (5). doi:10.1177/00222429221087987
This research analyzes the cultural contradictions of authenticity as they pertain to the actions of consumers and marketers. Our conceptualization diverges from the conventional assumption that the ambiguity manifest in the concept of authenticity can be resolved by identifying an essential set of defining attributes or by conceptualizing it as a continuum. Using a semiotic approach, we identify a general system of structural relationships and ambiguous classifications that organize the meanings through which authenticity is understood and contested in a given market context. We demonstrate the contextually adaptable nature of this framework by analyzing the authenticity contradictions generated by the cultural tensions between conscious capitalism—a market logic that encompasses both global brands and small independent businesses, such as a farm-to-table restaurant or an organic food co-op—and the elitist critique. The Slow Food movement provides our case study of how consumers, producers, and entrepreneurs who identify with conscious capitalist ideals understand these disauthenticating, elitist associations and the strategies they use to counter them. We conclude by discussing implications of our analysis for theories of authenticity and for managing the authenticity challenges facing conscious capitalist brands.
Special thanks to Holly Howe and Demi Oba, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for support in working with authors on submissions to this program.
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