The revived bottle was sold in a vintage bottle and – as part of the launch – elite customers in New York were given the opportunity to drive past 1930s Prohibition landmarks in vintage cars. In a statement from Anheuser-Busch, the company that makes Budweiser, the company announced that the limited-edition product “gave beer lovers a chance to experience and taste history.”
when Kent Grayson, associate professor of marketing at Kellogg, when he learned about the campaign, he immediately recognized that the company was appealing to customers’ desire for authenticity. That is, instead of appearing to respond to fickle consumer demands or the pursuit of short-term profit, the company seemed to stay true to itself. And when customers perceive a product as authentic, they are often more likely to buy it or be willing to pay a higher price.
In a new study, Grayson and colleagues investigated what aspects of a product evoke authenticity for consumers, focusing specifically on food. They found that if a product was made using an original process designed by the founder, people felt the food had a stronger intangible brand “essence” and was more authentic than if a newer process had been used to make it.
Essence is “an unspoken but important fundamental quality of people and things that makes them what they are,” says Grayson. “It’s like DNA. it is like a soul”.
JFK touched this watch!
A product can acquire a sense of authenticity in many ways.
For example, in one 2014 study, a research team found that when study participants were told that a product was manufactured in a company’s original factory, they felt that the product had a stronger brand “essence.” And this stronger substance, in turn, increased the perceived authenticity of the product.
While this research showed that a connection to a physical place can lend authenticity, similar connections to people or seasons can also do the trick. After all, people will pay big bucks for memorabilia like a watch worn by JFK. Or an Art Deco piece might be considered authentic because it was created in the 1920s.
Grayson and colleagues, Chelsea Galloni at the University of Iowa and Brendan Strecek at the University of Toronto, wondered if the substance could also come from a company’s original manufacturing process. Would products made with this process be considered more authentic?
That would be important because companies can make many more items with a prototype process than they can in an original location, Grayson says. After all, a single factory can only produce a limited amount per year.
The researchers hypothesized that the historical process can provide a sense of continuity—something that embodies the founder’s or company’s values—as well as a sense of conformity to the company’s general norms. Both of these factors have also been associated with authenticity.
To find out if using the original production process increased substance, the researchers conducted an online study with 505 participants on the MTurk website. Each participant read background information about one of six companies: Oreo, Häagen-Dazs, Coca-Cola, Miss Vickie’s, Heinz, or Teavana. For example, the story of Häagen-Dazs told how entrepreneur Reuben Mattus had immigrated from Poland to the United States in 1921, sold cold treats from a horse-drawn wagon, and eventually invented “the world’s first premium ice cream” of high-quality, natural ingredients .
Participants then read that the company was making a limited edition product. Half of the group was told that the company would manufacture the product using the founder’s original process in its newest factory. The other half were told that the product would be made using the company’s newest process, designed by its chief product engineer, in its original factory.
Each person then rated aspects of the product’s essence on a scale of 1 to 9 — for example, how much it reflected the brand’s heritage or embodied the brand’s special quality. They also rated how much the product felt like a “genuine,” “true,” or “real” company product on a scale of 1 to 7, which the researchers combined into an overall authenticity score.
Paying a premium
The original process seemed to imbue the products with at least as much substance and authenticity, in the minds of the participants, as the historic factory did. People who believed the product was made in the original factory rated substance 7.16, on average, and authenticity 6.23. Participants who believed it was done by the founder’s process gave substance and authenticity scores of 7.85 and 6.43, respectively. This result suggested that substance need not come from a physical connection to a place.
The team obtained similar results when they conducted another online study on Ghirardelli chocolates. Participants rated substance and authenticity higher when they read that the chocolate was made using a process established by founder Domingo Ghirardelli in 1849, even if it was made in a new factory.
In that study, people also answered questions about how much they valued the product—for example, how likely they were to buy it or whether they would pay a premium. Participants who were told about the original process gave an average rating of 5.36 out of 9, while those who read about a new production process gave a rating of 4.93.
That doesn’t mean people would pay a huge premium or travel 50 extra miles to make chocolate using the older process, Grayson says. But if they were casually browsing a supermarket shelf and saw the two products side by side, they might think, “I don’t know why, I’ll just grab it,” he says. “But we know why. It’s about authenticity and connection.”
A smell of Ghirardelli essence
Finally, the team investigated what happened if a company “borrowed” a prototype process developed by another company. Would the borrower also gain a stronger sense of authenticity?
The researchers conducted another study using the same information about Ghirardelli, but this time they added a twist. Some attendees read that Ghirardelli had licensed the mixing, tempering and molding of chocolate to Godiva.
Among this group, half were told that the licensed procedure was Domingo Ghirardelli’s original procedure. others read that it was a new process developed by Ghirardelli’s chief chocolatier. Participants then rated how much Godiva chocolate had Ghirardelli essence and whether it was an authentic Ghirardelli chocolate.
The Godiva bar made with the original Ghirardelli process received higher scores for Ghirardelli’s essence and authenticity, the team found. In fact, Godiva probably wouldn’t want their chocolates to have Ghirardellian essence because the two companies are direct competitors. “But there are business cases where authenticity from someone else’s brand can be an advantage,” says Grayson.
For example, one could imagine that if a snack company produced pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the company could use Smucker’s jam, made with an original recipe. In this scenario, the two products are more complementary than competitive, and tapping into Smuckers’ essence would be an advantage for the snack maker.
Values over profits
The results suggest that companies can draw on their historical production processes to imbue products with a sense of authenticity.
But even newer companies may not be completely out of luck. These companies could potentially demonstrate authenticity by emphasizing continuity in other ways—perhaps by telling the story of their founder, Grayson says. For example, a surfwear company could emphasize how its founder started surfing as a child and has loved the sport all her life.
Or the company could commit to an entirely different strategy for cultivating authenticity: it could engage in corporate social responsibility and show “a sincere desire to make a difference,” he says. Patagonia, for example, is known for its commitment to sustainability. In 2011, the company released an ad that said: “Don’t buy this jacket” on Black Friday to encourage people to cut back on consumerism and repair rather than replace items.
This type of statement shows that “we care so much about what we’re willing to give up some profit,” Grayson says.