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In today’s marketing world, “authenticity” is the goal. From influencers and creators to global brands, consumers are seeking authenticity and it’s up to marketers to deliver. 

Today, 64% of consumers think brands lack accountability and transparency; at the same time, more customers than ever are interested in more personalized experiences and engaging directly with brands and creators. 

However, the way consumers view authenticity has changed dramatically in the last seven years. What was once seen as authentic is no longer, which has shifted which brands are considered the most authentic. We wondered: why did this evolution happen? What do we know about authenticity today, and how can marketers make the most of these evolving viewpoints? 

The Most Authentic Brands 

According to a 2015 survey by survey by Cohn & Wolfe, these were the top five most authentic brands in the world at that time: 

  1. Disney 
  2. BMW
  3. Microsoft 
  4. Amazon
  5. Apple

These brands may surprise you as you consider authenticity in today’s environment. Looking at the list from seven years ago, it seems like  authenticity in 2015 was defined by a measure of brand consistency, and possibly, exclusivity was determined in part by the following: 

  • Is the brand true to what the company does?
  • Is the brand consistently applied in a myriad of platforms and ways?
  • Is the brand a status symbol? 
  • Does it say something about me to be affiliated with this brand?

Perhaps a lot less surprising is last year’s list of the most authentic brands in the world

  1. Calm
  2. Patagonia 
  3. Whole Foods*
  4. Kiehl’s 
  5. USAA 

In just seven years, not only did nearly all of the top five advertisers fall from authenticity’s grace, the list seemed to undergo a complete metamorphosis.

*Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon in 2017.

The Evolution of Brand Authenticity

Here are some factors that may have influenced this dramatic change in brand authenticity in the last seven years. 

The Global Pandemic Influence

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed society in ways that may not fully be understood for generations to come. However, there are several studies that outline some of the more obvious residual effects. 

The significant increase in reported mental health struggles allowed for the much-needed conversation on mental health to be addressed. Matthew Macaluso, D.O., clinical director of the UAB Depression and Suicide Center, says all the challenges society has faced during the past two years is leading to a shift in available mental health care.

“Though it’s crazy to say, my life started to flourish during the pandemic in more ways than one. I went back to school…I got in the best shape of my life by focusing on clean eating, and I lost 35 pounds…The pandemic was a time for me to quiet down the noise around me. Personally, I was able to shut out the world, decide what I really wanted out of life, and for myself, and start making those things happen.” said Sadie Horton, a Staff Assistant at Duke University. 

Though the World Health Organization declared an official end to the pandemic in May of 2023, the way we work, live, and see ourselves, is expected to continue. Consumers have become accustomed to advancements such as curbside pickup and meal delivery. Employees have also fought fiercely to maintain remote and hybrid work environments in favor of a work-life balance that doesn’t include daily hours-long commutes. Those brands that reinforce qualities that reinforce personal wellness and convenience continue to thrive.

Consumer Expectations

If you’re feeling like consumers are expecting more from brands than ever before, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you’re right! Not only do consumers today want to feel valued every time they shop, and they expect their relationships with brands to far outlast the transaction. 

According to Yotpo’s annual State of Brand Loyalty report, 85% of global consumers said they're more inclined to buy from a brand whose values align with their own. Isolate that audience to Gen Z respondents and the figure jumps to 90%. 

The survey also found that bad business practices discourage consumers from being loyal to any brand. Supply chain partnerships with factories that mistreat employees? That’ll cost you 48% of brand loyalists. Affiliating your product with a big polluter will likely gut loyalty by 22%.

Budweiser’s most recent pullback of a campaign featuring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney is projected to cost the advertiser 26% in sales this year —a decline in sales not expected to be recovered by the end of the 2024 fiscal year in October.

Consumers are being more diligent in choosing brands they align with, and expect their brands to follow suit. 

Brands' Willingness to Align With Social Issues

The question of whether or not marketers should engage in sociopolitical issues has always been one to watch. For years, brands have been allowed to remain safe in silence or have chosen to focus their cause marketing efforts on those issues that were less likely to rock the boat. Think General Mills’ Box Tops for Education, Pizza Hut’s Book It program, etc.  

In 2023’s economy, that strategy has proven to be less attention-getting and less effective with audiences. In fact, a recent Sprout Social survey showed 70% of consumers expect brands to take a stand on social and political issues. That aligns with a Deloitte study which also showed 75% of respondents saying taking a stand would demonstrate the company cares about more than profits.

The reality is brands don't have a duty to show up in cultural issues. They should take a moment to ask themselves how to best make a positive impact on society and focus their efforts on consistently supporting the ones that matter most to their customers and their employees. And when they do choose, they need to make sure they’re making authentic choices – consumers will know if they’re not. 

Shifting Consumer Priorities

According to this Gallup poll, at least 53% of U.S. adults don’t expect their life to be the same as before the pandemic.

“The pandemic has forced all of us to take a good hard look at ourselves and think about what we really want from our lives, including our jobs. For many people, the daily grind of the 9 to 5 just didn’t seem as important as it once did. And recent evidence suggests that many of those people who quit during the pandemic found even better-paying jobs later.” Allen Gorman, Ph.D. in UAB News.

The events of the last three years, particularly the lockdown of 2020, gave people time to think and lots of it. As society screeched to a halt, everyone took personal assessments of what was important to them and clung to it. In the process of shedding our artificial connections, we strengthened those authentic bonds with each other and our world. 

It’s safe to say we’ve come a long way in seven years, but have even further to go. Looking at these influential environmental factors, it’s clear that our definition of authenticity is different, just as we’re different than we once were: We as marketers, we as consumers, and we as global citizens. Here’s to showing up authentically in the future. 

Want to learn more about how to show up authentically on social media, in paid search, on Amazon, and more? Contact us to set up a time to talk. 



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