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Authenticity vs. relatablity.

Are you being authentic enough in your marketing and advertising efforts? And - perhaps more importantly - do consumers actually want genuine authenticity, or is it just another permutation of peddling products  using the notion of an unachievable ideal?

Back in March,  Jill Byron wrote for AdAge that "in the never-ending quest for marketers to connect with millennials, authenticity continues its reign as the marketing 'it' word of the decade." Organic Valley's  "Real Morning Report" and Burt's Bees' #LoveYourNature campaigns are definitely symptomatic of this trend: all positive, empowering messaging about how great it is to embrace the real you (your best possible self and all that) over some ideal that just isn't and won't be.

The turn towards authenticity is far from new of course: Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has been around since 2004, crusading against "an unrealistic standard of beauty."

I'm not going to go into the debate over whether campaigns like Dove's (and others of its ilk) are hypocritical. You can find thought pieces on this going back at least to 2007 (like this one from AdRants, and a 2013 one from AdWorld).

What I find more interesting is this: while so many brands are going for "real" and "authentic," at the same time we have (and so many of us use) more options than ever to augment ourselves.

On the physical dimension, contouring has exploded. False lashes and extensions are becoming a make-up staple along the lines of mascara rather than a treat for special occasions. Permanent make up may date back to the 1930s, but again it seems to have become mainstream especially over the last years - especially for eyebrows with increasingly refined techniques like microblading (I haven't yet been able to find concrete stats on the rise of permanent makeup, so this is based on anecdotal evidence).

And then there are the ways to prettify yourself (and your life) without even relying on makeup. With smartphone photo filters, you don't need Photoshop to look instantly polished in photos. I've seen men in their thirties play with Snapchat lenses and exclaim (with delighted surprise) "Wow, that makes me look good." It's such a large feature of Snapchat that one of the brand's ads features a girl who chooses a lense in lieu of makeup. So - will we eventually forsake our real imperfect selves for airbrushed digital avatars?

Going beyond that, are these trends two sides of the same coin? Is the quest for authenticity actually just a new ideal, as fake as wearing make up that makes it look like you're not wearing makeup but are just effortlessly beautiful, like the actresses and models who brag about how much they love eating and are still slim - or is it genuinely about embracing one's flaws and redefining established standards of beauty and perfection?

Is the new authenticity about accepting that the "ideal" isn't actually achievable and we should make the most of what we have? Consider, for example, the Clearasil ads that celebrate and relish the fact that the brand has trouble effectively communicating with its target audience, and - by owning their shortcomings - make the brand more relatable.

So given that marketing and advertising comes down to building connections with your audience, relatability rather than authenticity seems to be the key – which campaigns like Dockers' #AllAboutDad campaign for Father's Day and Jockey's "Show 'Em What's Underneath" represent. Inspirational but still real.

PS: To add to the debate - in March, The Cut interviewed 19-year-old actress Zendaya Coleman (who's established herself as something of a spokesperson for body positivity) about how makeup fits into the authenticity debate:
Makeup has become a thing where it's an art form. It's not a thing where you use it because you need to feel beautiful or because you don't like the way you look.

Now, you do it because it's fun, because we enjoy experimenting with colors and different highlighters and contour. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It's become more fun. It's not what it once was. You know, I don't wear a highlighter out because I hope a guy is going to be like, "Oh dang, her highlighter is nice." They're not going to care.

They're not going to notice. I do it because this highlighter is bomb and I want to put it on my face and this is my face and I can choose to put on it what I want. That's what I like seeing happening.

That, to me, seems like a perfectly healthy attitude to it.

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