The Authenticity Conundrum

Brands want experiences to be authentic, but they also want everything to be captured. Is an experience experienced through a phone ever truly authentic?

A brief history of ‘authentic’ marketing 

We’ve all heard it. You can’t not hear it. The A-word. That signifier of seemingly ‘true’ connection and artistry. That thing that elevates activations from ‘things’ to ‘experiences’. No, not Alcohol. Authenticity. Authenticity is key, we’re told. Authenticity is the way to truly bond a brand to their audience. Authenticity is what people are craving in a world of screens, seven pound pints and Stanley Cups (the three evil S’s). 

It’s not a new idea. For almost thirty years brands have tried to harness the idea of authenticity, to speak more directly, and more powerfully to their audiences. Early print and TV ads presented an idealised aesthetic or world that was attainable to those who could buy it. This offered audiences something to yearn for and pushed them to purchase (we’ve all seen Mad Men). The millennium was the major turning point - from glamorised perfection towards a messier, realer kind of authenticity. Think about the Budweiser ‘wassup’ campaign (where amiable Bud drinking mates talk like amiable Bud drinking mates) and the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty - both of these campaigns attempted to capture different types of ‘real’ people, with ‘authentic’ needs.

Now I’m not saying this was The Golden Age of authenticity in advertising, it’s perhaps more famously remembered as the era that generated wilder, more artistic expressions of brands (the Guinness surfer, You’ve been Tango’d, Levi’s Spaceman, Flat Eric, The Judderman! …Wow I’m getting old) but it’s around this time that brands started to explore a more holistic approach to representing their audiences’ desires and, more importantly, reflecting their audience back at themselves. Add to this the mid 00’s boom of reality TV (I could be a popstar?! I could be an Apprentice? What is a Kardashian?) and the birth of social media and bam! Suddenly real people were at the epicentre of global culture.

But this is old news - it’s 2024, using a real-looking photo over a heavily airbrushed one is expected, encouraged even. So where do brands go from there? It was easy to remedy the desire for authenticity when ads were glossy and glamorous, you simply offer something more real-feeling. Crows-feet? Same here. Feeling tired? Tell me about it. Split ends- actually I don’t really understand split ends, are they still a thing? Now, however, everything looks real because we’re so used to documenting our lives (our breakfasts, break-outs and break-ups) and seeing our friends and famous people alike do the same.

Deeper engagement leads to more ‘likes’

Ryot Studio

Brands and businesses know that if they can get consumers to engage with them authentically then they’re going to encourage greater brand loyalty and a more fervent fanbase (and maybe some awards along the way). CEO of Moncler, Remo Ruffini said “I think that possession is important, but not as important as when I was a kid. Now it’s about convincing the consumer that the brand world is something they can participate in.”​

This, more than anything, is what we get challenged with at Swamp - to create an experience where content creators engage with said product and capture the entire thing on their phones as they do so. But here’s the problem (and the reason why the header image accompanies this piece): if you’re experiencing something through a phone, is it actually authentic? 

This is the Authenticity Conundrum. 

Capturing content is important because it’s measurable. There are crystal clear KPI’s here; X amount of impressions translates to Y increase in sales which equals Z amount of cold hard cash. 

But is captured content truly authentic? Do we genuinely think feelings can be captured just as well as footage can be? We’ve all been to a gig and despaired as a crowd of people lift their phones to film a tiny, blurry video they’re never going to watch ever again. And we’ve all been to a gig where we’ve lifted our phones to film a tiny, blurry video we’re never going to watch again. We know it’s stupid, and yet we do it. There’s some larger philosophical thing here about wanting to bottle time or something, I’ll talk to my therapist and write another piece on that. 

So, what next?

Prime Video

But - I hear you cry - what if the world we live in now, the true authentic world, is the one where everyone on the Champs-Élysées is holding their phones up in the air?! Should I just get on board with it all and stop yearning for phone-free experiences? We all recognise the benefits it affords the industry, and perhaps it is a tool that does empower and give voice to people who would otherwise be without? And, I’ll be honest, as someone measuring 5ft 7” (and proud), I guess maybe I would rather watch the gig through the phone of the tall person standing in front of me than staring at the back of their head all night.

Maybe there’s another way of capturing authenticity. Maybe it’s not on film for socials, maybe it’s long form podcasts where excitement and energy can flow freely. Maybe it’s about creating experiences with greater audience capacity so larger numbers can engage with the brand narrative. Maybe it’s about very personal, very specific digital interactions that feel uniquely tailored to each individual - something unachievable IRL - that could engage us more deeply. Perhaps it's some Wonka-esque perfume that magically transports people to- no that’s one’s stupid. 

My pitch? What about filming experiences for people? Rig the party with cameras, capture the experience with movie-quality equipment and edit together reels for people to receive and share after the event. Wouldn’t that encourage people to be their authentic selves? Without the pressure to have to capture the experience, phone always in hand, and inevitably end up with similar footage as all other Content Creators engaging with the activation? Use your phone if you want, if it feels natural, but if not - we’ve got you covered. At Swamp we’ve been experimenting with creating experiences that champion this style and given them the charming moniker of ‘Content Playgrounds’.

Content Playgrounds!


In a Content Playground we have a two-pronged approach: 1. entertain creators in the most thrilling way, and 2. capture more surrounding content with our cameras. If content creators are truly loving the experience then their authentic reactions are all the bigger, and if we’ve managed to provide them with surprising footage which fits perfectly with the stuff they’ve already filmed, then creators consistently over-deliver on the amount of content they’ve been tasked with generating. Hopefully the thrill of the event means all that extra footage is packed full of genuine responses and authentic reactions.

Essentially, let creators capture their own content, but also let them play in an environment where - if they don’t happen to capture exactly what you want or need because they’re having such a brilliant time - you’ve already got it covered. And the reactions captured are inevitably, inherently, going to be all the more authentic.

Anyway, enough of my opinions - what do you think? Fancy discussing more over the most authentic meeting you can imagine (most likely on Zoom, but I promise not to put a filter on)? 

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