To win over increasingly savvy (and jaded) customers, many brands now strive for something generally called “authenticity.” They want to be perceived as “real.” In other words, they want to be let through the walls and filters that customers put up to guard their private lives from commercial intrusion. Authenticity is also one more way to appear different amid a crowded field of brands that are perceived as superficial and essentially fake. Brands seen as “authentic” elicit a more positive reaction from consumers who feel exploited by mass-market brands and don’t want to be seen as following the herd. Authentic brands “matter” in people’s lives.The trend toward authenticity may be related to the popularity of so-called reality television programming, in which nonactors react spontaneously to real-life situations without following a script. It also fits in with the movement toward greater transparency in all media brought about by the Internet, especially the rise of community forums and blogs that encourage constant, open feedback on everything from books and politics to sports teams, celebrity lifestyles, and music.The quest for authenticity is shaping the travel business, the fashion industry, and many other fields. Travelers choose not just a destination, but a set of activities typical of the place. Fashions aim for “street cred” and try to make a meaningful statement of social awareness. Food and drinks brands, personal-care products, and automobiles likewise try to position themselves as representing an original choice, rather than a response to mass-market advertising.In the 1990s, one maker of soap powder in the Czech Republic began selling “Regular brand” soap in plain white boxes with simple black type. The box was familiar to millions of television viewers as the unnamed competitor in TV commercials for major brands from P&G and Unilever. “Regular brand” powder sold amazingly well, at least until customers tired of the joke.Humor is often employed to make a brand seem accessible. It’s hard to see how drinking the same bottle of Sprite as millions of others qualifies you as “original,” but the advertising does make that claim. In any case, Sprite has tried to position itself as part of an active/youth lifestyle, using humor to tear down pretense and try to appear “cool.” Humor is often used to make a brand more human—make it what speakers of Italian or Spanish would call “simpatico.”It is easy for a big brand to co-opt the latest visual hallmarks of authenticity and apply them to mass-market products. The mark of true authenticity is being small-scale, noncommercial, or even handmade. The visual manifestation of this is constantly shifting—too rapidly for most large producers to keep up. In the end, it will not be the visual aspects that indicate authenticity, but the product quality and customer service that small organizations tend to be so much better at providing on a personal level.