Some Thoughts On Authenticity

I imagine most people are aware of the recent fuss over The Gap’s redesign of its logo. Yes, it’s lame. (Helvetica should be seen only as you descend underground in New York City. And don’t get me started on that oddly placed little square gradient). Regardless, what this little burst of free PR for The Gap got me thinking about is the state of authenticity in communication.
After the deluge of online criticism over the new design, the following message was posted on The Gap’s Facebook Page: Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.
The logo gaffe was the perfect opportunity for the company to communicate and connect with its customers (and even hipster designers who cringe at the thought of The Gap). Instead, this Facebook post comes across like a million other corporate soundbites. Read it once in your head, determine the tone of voice for yourself and then read it aloud in said tone of voice. See what I mean? Exclamation points in all the wrong places communicate condescension. Words like “buzz” and “thrilled” are trite and hollow. To a customer who may or may not care at all about logos, words like “stay tuned” and “crowd sourcing project” make me think, “OK, Gap. You have fun with that.”

We could talk about what The Gap could have done in terms of their communicative efforts (and the logo, for that matter), but plenty of people have done so already. What I want to talk about is the idea of authenticity, since the aforementioned example seems to be devoid of it. What does authenticity sound like today and how can we — as people and companies — get it right?

Honesty and Transparency

Authenticity is partly being honest and transparent. Note that these are not the same thing. Transparency is about being clear with the facts, but it’s not always about being honest. I was talking to a customer service rep from Delta the other day. I currently have a $400 credit with the company that expires early next year. With an upcoming three-day trip to Chicago on my calendar, I figured I’d use it. So after wading through automated systems, I get the rep on the phone and start going through the process. It turns out that a round trip ticket ordered through the airline was something like $512. I asked the rep, “How can you guys be so grossly overpriced compared to the other options that exist out there?” After a factual, transparent, corporate-y response, she then got real with me: “Honestly, you probably should use them for this trip and save your credit with us for a destination that’s further and spans longer than three days. You’ll most likely be able to fly somewhere like Salt Lake City this winter for about the same amount”  I was taken aback; not so much because I was mystified at how she pegged me for a skier (I know how she did that — oh, hey data!) but more so because she delivered something honest and authentic that was beyond the facts on her screen. Sure, I still have Delta credit hanging over my head, but this rep provided candid, real advice that most benefited me, the customer.

The bottom line is that authenticity requires more than just transparency, it requires honesty. We can go get the facts anywhere, but when you provide someone with honest insight, you’ve earned a little authenticity.


Be a helpful human being. (I tried to hashtag that once to see if it could catch on. It didn’t. Making up acronyms is tough.) But this point isn’t so much about acronyms as it is about simply being helpful. We have such massive opportunities to share and help and mentor and guide and all that other do-goody stuff, yet a lot of people don’t. Lack of time and relevance are usually the reasons cited. And that’s a shame, because simply being helpful is one of the easiest ways to build authenticity.You know who’s good about doing this? Peter Shankman, who runs HARO. Aside from the fact that his product was designed to help link up media and sources for free, he’s always helping. Passing along job links. Responding to email inquiries from people he doesn’t even know (I’ve got first-hand experience of that.)  Even the first word of the title of his product is “help.” Even if you can’t measure it, all of these little things add up, and I’m sure he’s earned tons of business out of it.

Whatever you do is going to take on elements of who you are. If you’re a #GDHHB, you’re going to gain authenticity.

(For the record, I have no affiliation with Shankman. I’ve never even met him. But from what I know, he seems like a good dude.)


This is about knowing where you come from. I’m not talking about Oregon or Virginia or Ontario, though that also has its value in building authenticity. I’m taking about the importance of remembering why you are where you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

My shop just launched a service that’s designed to help people find out if they’re underpaid or not and provides them with tools that can help them get a raise (you’ll notice that I’m conscious of not mentioning the actual product because that’d be the epitome of hypocrisy, given the subject matter of this post). The point is, we self-funded and built this thing with the genuine desire to help people earn what’s fair. Call it altruistic, but these are standards to which we hold true. If we can deliver that vibe authentically and do quality work, we will always find interesting people, companies and ideas to collaborate with.

Don’t Patronize

It’s irritating when you know you’re getting the run-around or someone is feeding you garbage. This is, in fact, the polar opposite of authenticity  So when you work with anyone, picture yourself on the receiving end. Ask yourself, “Is this guy full of it or does he actually give one about me and what we’re talking about?”  This should function as a pretty good personal authenticity barometer.In an attempt to tie all of this together, I actually think I’m going to turn to a quote from high school.  Saint Francis de Sales said, “Be who you are and be that well.”  By no means am I applying a religious slant to this post, but that pretty much sums up authenticity. Take transparency a step further. Help people. Keep grounded in why you’re doing what you’re doing.  And try to remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lameness.  As for The Gap, they’ll be OK. They just need to work on communicating authentically to their customers. That and the new logo…

Dave Clarke is the Communications Strategist at Churnless, a digital strategy and product development shop that creates measurable behavioral change. Visit for more.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):