It’s amazing how authenticity is something we all know, yet few can clearly describe. Whilst I was planning this blog, I asked a couple of the team their opinions on what brands they think are ‘authentic’. There were some usual suspects (Apple, Google and John Lewis) and there were some curveballs I wouldn’t have expected (North Face, Virgin and Lakeland). What was interesting was each of the Agents I asked, almost to a script, responded with the same question: “what do you mean by authentic?”.
Even more interestingly, I couldn’t answer them. Not properly anyway. I gave a fuzzy spiel about authentic brands being those who know who they are, stick to their morals and do good stuff. Then I realised I could have been talking about a charity, Batman or the lady who lives next door and drops off biscuits occasionally for me and my girlfriend.
This conversation was sparked when I read the news about The Co-operative turning back time and returning to a brand identity which they dropped in the early 80s. The group, something I’d have always thought of as being authentic, spectacularly lost their way in the run up to the 2013 meltdown of the company’s brand, business and reputation. A time, when governance was complicated, ambition wasn’t matched with talent and overall a perfect storm brewed which caused serious damage – to the company, to the members and to the brand I used to hold in such high esteem.
Post 2013 there’s been a real sense of ‘going back to basics’, returning to a purpose which previously made money, made a difference in the world, but also made sense. Some of the things The Co-operative was diverging into seemed like a good idea at the time, yet as the purpose got fuzzy so did the way in which the brand strategically conducted its checks and balances.
There’s a real strategic ‘flag in the ground’ feeling with this move and I have to doth my cap to them for going back to this logo in particular. It doesn’t feel like a nostalgia thing (in the same way Miller Lite brings back their 70’s labels every now and again); it doesn’t feel like a medium term gimmick (like the Choco Krispies fiasco of the noughties – stupid idea) and it doesn’t feel like a promotional thing to give sales a bit of a boost (like the way Reebok brought back the Classic, for a while). It feels like they’ve gone for a logo which sets the cultural mentality back to a time of purpose, commercially-led altruism and when loyalty to The Co-operative was unquestionable (as well as being the logo used before it was changed during the ‘greed is good’ 80s financial free-for-all).
And maybe that’s what authenticity is – a feeling. A feeling you get from something you admire that reflects a part of your own values set and personality you want to project. I’d like to think I’ve got good commercial acumen, I’m a solid strategic healthordisease.com thinker and I go out of my way to do things that are beyond my own enlightened self-interests. That’s the feeling I get from this rebrand – hopefully my admiration and faith in what The Co-operative used to stand for isn’t misplaced.