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Why should brands care about

being authentic?

The concept of authenticity has real relevance

to people, yet its exact meaning can be both

elusive and intangible as it relies on subjective

interpretation. Increasingly for brands offering

an authentic product, service or experience it

is an important selling point. However, because

honesty and integrity are integral to the concept,

authenticity can be easily undermined, and that

makes it a real challenge for brands to achieve,

establish and maintain.

To help, we set about delving into the concept and reality of

authenticity to understand how brands can:

• Navigate authenticity to make it more tangible in their

offering and communication

• Demystify the term in order that it can be used more


• Locate their true source of authenticity and demonstrate it

with integrity.

Dr Bob Cook, who led the research at Firefish, says:

“Before we go any further, it’s important to remember that

brands cannot fake, borrow or buy authenticity and if you

truly are authentic, you shouldn’t have to say so.”

What makes a brand authentic?

In this research we identified five core tenets of authenticity

that we judged 50 brands against (see methodology section).

These 50 brands were based on a list chosen by the editorial

team at Marketing Week from BrandZ. We adapted the list to

include brands well-known in the UK. Research was carried

out from a nationally representative sample of 1000 people.

The five tenets are: Original, honest, visionary, sense of

purpose and credible. All brands in the Marketing Week Top

50 have good authenticity scores – authenticity is central to

the success and value of brands – with some performing well

across all five tenets, others in two or three areas.

But there is a note of caution from Firefish’s Francesca

Alberry: “It is crucial for brands to remain true to their own

identity or narrative, whilst conforming to this category idea.

People are looking for a meaningful connection with brands,

and are quick to identify when narratives appear false or

forced. Brands need to avoid the easy pitfall of entering

the realm of stereotype or caricature. This happens when

narratives are visibly lacking in substance, veracity and of

course, authenticity.”

The Firefish 10 Commandments

of Authenticity

Originality is consistently the most important part of overall

authenticity score, and in the qualitative research, it is also

the most instinctive interpretation of authenticity. Brands

including Google, Apple and eBay gain most from ‘visionary’

and ‘sense of purpose’ tenets compared to established

brands such as Heinz, Cadbury and Levis, who gain more from

‘originality’ and ‘credibility’.

Two other factors have an important role

to play in influencing authenticity:


Familiarity and brand proximity can foster an increased sense

of authenticity in consumers. The more familiar you are with

a brand, the greater your access, interaction and affection

with it and its narratives.


There is a strong desire and expectation for brand stories

to confirm and validate our own belief systems, personal

choices, sense of identity and ideals. It’s important for brand

narratives to do this through consistently delivered stories

that feel appropriate for the individual, and for the category.

These stories act as codes or short-cuts to aid and reassure

our decisions. So brands that deliver against or allude to

these category truths can validate and support consumers’

expectations, creating a positive and meaningful connection.

An example of conforming to category ideals

Within Western culture we have been brought up with tales

of the tradition of excellence amongst Italian pasta makers

– their skill, process and ingredients. This category ideal has

created the benchmark against which we judge and make

informed choices based on our desire to satisfy this narrative.

As such, we tend to respond well to pasta brands that have an

Italian heritage.











Stories must be grounded in a truth, be genuine

and true to your brand

Choose a narrative that best suits your situation so

it has integrity

Maintain insight into your brand, your audience

and the culture you exist in

Be consistent, passionate and honest

Be mindful of the pre-existing narratives, but steer

clear of stereotyping

Be visionary

Imperfections and idiosyncrasies keep you unique

and meaningful

Aspire to be original and master of your own field

Be proud of your origins, stay original – and avoid


Be bold and brave, reinvigorate and evolve but stay

true to your brand

The Firefish Top 50 Authentic Brands

1. Heinz 2. Disney 3. Ferrari 4. Google 5. Cadbury

6. Apple 7. VW 8. Microsoft 9. Land Rover 10. Amazon

11. Robinsons 12. Ikea 13. Coca Cola 14. Samsung 15. Ebay

16. Levi’s 17. Birdseye 18. Tetley 19. M&S 20. Ford

21. Jack Daniels 22. Adidas 23. Waitrose 24. Times 25. Knorr

26. Sky 27. Burberry 28. Johnnie Walker 29. Bacardi 30. Pataks

31. Pepsi 32. Budweiser 33. Innocent 34. Guardian 35. O2

36. Redbull 37. Heineken 38. KFC 39. McDonalds 40. Tesco

41. Topshop 42. Facebook 43. Twitter 44. Pizza Express 45. Yahoo

46. HTC 47. Pret a Manger 48. Vans 49. Starbucks 50. Uber



Firefish conducted a multifaceted study including strategic

synthesis of 30+ documents around the topic of Authenticity

and eight depth interviews with leading brand marketers,

creatives, entrepreneurs and academics. These interviews

shaped thinking that was then explored further in three

group discussions amongst three age groups; 18-24, 30-40,

50+. We also conducted research with seven Mini-MD’s aged

14-16 and subsequent two weeks of social media listening

conducted by Bakamo Social.

Contact Details

Martyn Hill


Firefish ran a nationally representative survey of 1000 people.

This investigated people’s perceptions of 50 brands (adapted

from Marketing Week 50 Most Valuable Brands) against five

key values of authenticity as defined by initial qualitative

exploration. These five values were:

• Original: An original – doesn’t imitate

• Honest: Behaves in a way that is truthful and


• Visionary: Leads the way with new ideas

• Sense of purpose: Is passionate and committed to what it


• Credible: Has relevant history, expertise, background

The research was carried out in July and August 2014 on behalf of Marketing

Week and was published on 4th September 2014.

You can see the article online here

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