Book review: The Authenticity Hoax by Andrew Potter

I recently finished a book called The Authenticity Hoax by Andrew Potter. It’s essentially a critique of a critique of contemporary consumer culture. In their rejection of capitalist materialism and status-seeking, the argument goes, post-modern, enlightened individuals have only created a new level of status-seeking.


For example, as a modern Western society, we have collectively decided that the processing and branding of food has gone too far. Those of us who have the time and money to concern ourselves with the issue turn to organic food. It’s healthier, better for the environment, and somehow closer to the way things should be.

But the organic movement has been around for a while now and all major supermarkets, even Wal-Mart, have an organic section. Major brands are offering organic options, and formerly niche organic brands are becoming major brands.

If everyone is authentic, nobody is. So those who are really serious about being authentic move on to local organic. Or a raw diet. Or a 100 mile diet followed by a 50 mile diet like an addict looking for the next high.

What we end up with is elitism and one-upmanship that is, at the core, uncannily similar to the quest for a bigger house or a faster car. Anti-marketing is marketing in its own right. Potter goes on to draw examples of this phenomenon from politics, philosophy, technology and culture.

What made this an interesting read for me was that I was reading the book as a marketer and as a consumer simultaneously, because we are all consumers whether we like it or not. I recognized the constant dance between what potential customers of our brands are looking for and how we package brands accordingly.

Early in the book Potter makes reference to this cartoon that originally appeared in The New Yorker.

People seems to be looking for that perfect compromise between what they consider authentic living and the comfort and security of modern society. Terms like authentic, reclaimed, rustic, DIY, organic and local seem to do the trick when it comes to bridging that gap. It’s no coincidence that these words have also become the lingo du jour for marketing.

What we end up with is a classic chicken-and-egg cycle in which consumers demand the authentic and marketers sell it to them while constantly redefining what authenticity is. This ensures that people who insist that they can’t be sold to by marketers are actually the easiest to sell to. All you have to do is convince them that what they once thought is authentic has become mass market.

Gabriella is the Creative Director at 88 Creative. Follow her on Twitter @gabriellainga.