Unfortunately, we’re all vulnerable to the same tendency. There’s now suggestive evidence that our faith in the authentic – especially when the authenticity is supported by effective marketing campaigns – is a deep seated human instinct, which emerges at an extremely early age. Consider a clever experiment led by the psychologists Bruce Hood and Paul Bloom. The scientists tested 43 children between the ages of three and six. The children were shown a “copying machine” – it was actually tachistoscopes that were modified to have flashing lights and buzzers – and told that it could make an exact copy of any object. After the machine was demonstrated for the kids – the scientists “copied” a block and a rubber animal – Hood and Bloom then told the kids that the machine could also duplicate toys. A ‘‘stretchy man’’ was then placed in the box and the illusion repeated. Interestingly, the young children actually preferred the “duplicate” toy and chose it 62 percent of the time. The kids didn’t worry about the “authenticity” of the stretchy man.
But Hood and Bloom didn’t stop there. They also had many of the young kids bring in their “attachment objects,” such as their favorite blanket or stuffed animal. (I still remember losing Johnny, my stuffed penguin, at the tender age of five. Grief.) The scientists then offered to “copy” the object for the kids. Four of the children simply refused – they wouldn’t let their blankie anywhere near that nefarious device. But even those kids who allowed their attachment object to be “copied” almost always refused to see the objects as equivalent. The new duplicate was a bootleg blankie, an ersatz stuffed animal. Even though the children were assured that the objects were identical, they intuitively believed that the copy wasn’t the same. It lacked a history, a bond, a sentimental attachment. It was inauthentic.
The same principle applies to brands. Although we outgrow stuffed animals, we never get beyond the irrational logic of authenticity and essentialism. There are certain things whose value depends largely on their legitimacy. Why? Because the brand has effectively woven itself into into our emotional brains.
I know I feel that way about my Diet Coke, my sixteen year old Standford sweatshirt (purchased when my daughter was very sick and was airlifted to Stanford Medical Center), and my winter robe. Makes me think of the "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?" commercial and branding. How about you, is there a brand or item that brings out that kind of passion for you?