Tom Asacker has written an interesting piece on the value to brands of authenticity. In it he suggests our striving to build 'authentic' brands (in that 'real' sense, where backstory, rich heritage, passionate commitment etc. are key) is a wild goose chase, as most people in most instances don't really care that much.
Is it cheap; does it work well; does it look good? These are what most of care about: being 'authentic' is just a bit of window dressing.
As someone who, in consumer mode, considers authenticity to be quite important, this is a challenging assertion. Maybe Tom is wrong. But my gut and experience says probably not. Which just goes to show how careful you have to be not to impose your own beliefs/desires on to the brands you work with.
But whilst authenticity may not carry weight with everyone, what does seem to be increasingly important is honesty and integrity - you can be 100 years old or invented yesterday, premium quality or instantly disposable, but people don't really care as long as you're true to yourself...and don't pretend to be something you not.
Which reminds me of another article I read recently in Fast Company. It covered similar territory, although came to a more positive conclusion about authenticity. And at one point had the following to say: "the opposite of real isn't fake...it's cynicism". Which I think possibly sounds cleverer than the meaning it contains. But again, the point is one of honesty: there's nothing wrong with being fake, as long as you are open about it. If you're cynical, and try to dress up your fakeness in authentic clothes, you will merely breed cynicism on the part of your consumers, who will see right through you.
But back to Tom. His article cites the (imaginary?) example of green Easy Cheese to dramatise the distinction between authenticity and integrity - as a Brit, I'm guessing this is cheese that you squirt. And here I'm going to diverge slightly from what he says, not so much in the conclusion (I think we come to the same point), but in the use of 'authenticity' and 'integrity' as these apply to the green squirty stuff. It may be semantics, but to my mind he has them wrong way round.
Anyway, my take would be this: that in the world of cheese, green Easy Cheese is anything but authentic (in that 'proper' artisanal way most would understand the word). But it is very true to itself - it has integrity, and builds the holistic brand...which is a fun, disposable, squirty cheese after all, so why shouldn't in be green.
Which has, in its own way, a degree of authenticity about it. And maybe that's the answer: honesty and integrity today delivers authenticity tomorrow, even if people can't see it now. Take Marmot. Here's a product that was only ever the by-product of the brewing industry. It was a waste product...and many have always thought it tasted as much. But in being true to itself over the decades, by maintaining its integrity, it now has real authenticity as well - for those who care!
And actually, if you look at all the usual authenticity suspects (Harley, DMs, whatever it is for you - authenticity is in the eye of the beholder), they often come from quite inauspicious beginnings. But they stuck to their guns, retained integrity and gained authenticity over the years (again, for those looking for it - and, for many brands, there are more than enough people willing to pay through the nose for the privilege).
So, yes, Tom is right. Don't get hung up on authenticity (unless it is there already). Worry more about brand integrity and a product that delivers. But I think he is also wrong (possibly), as authenticity (in the sense of having heritage and a 'real' story) should follow on as consequence of this...eventually at least. And some people WILL value it.