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Authenticity has become such a currency that we all want a piece of it. And so quickly have we leapt at the aspiration that the word itself has almost become a synonym for pragmatism. As long as we show vulnerability we are authentic. However, if that’s not an aspect of our character that’s fine too – admitting that we may be tough as jerky is in itself ‘authentic’, as long as we do so with humility. The once buzzword faces fatigue, especially when it comes to the debate around bloggers. The Cosmopolitan interview with Sarah Ashcroft that went viral saw far more criticism of her honesty than proclamations of her ‘being real’. Everyone knows that a feature in an international magazine is a huge PR opportunity yet she didn’t capitalise on this. Is she authentic?
Instead of pointing fingers at bloggers, branding their accounts or their personalities as ‘fake’ or real, maybe we should look at the brands we work with and whether or not they’re authentic. Who we choose to collaborate with becomes a reflection of us and influences what kind of brands will approach us in the future. So if you were wondering if it matters, it does. And if we look at the purely commercial side of the whole influencer model, brands are the ones who profit the most from us and our audiences. Shouldn’t they be held under the microscope even more so?
As consumers, we are rethinking where and how we spend our money. I’ve come across multiple examples of software online that actually identifies the brands that represent our core values and churn out those that best identify with our beliefs. And these ‘quizzes’ aren’t like Buzzfeed ones (no offence, I love them) but they have actual stimulating questions. The very existence and even popularity of these questionnaires is because we as buyers are looking for something meaningful and we want to maximise our purchases. For example, we
buy a nail polish not just for it’s colour but because the makeup brand doesn’t test on animals. Plus the packaging is super photogenic. Or how in January, we try being vegetarian or the more daring among us vegan, because we may feel that it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. And also, it allows you to use a whole new range of hashtags.
As citizens, we can easily identify an authentic brand – they probably have good corporate responsibility programmes, they haven’t been involved in any scandals and they do what they claim to do. Turn it around and ask, ‘what is an authentic brand to bloggers?’ and it becomes hard question to answer. Mostly it’s because we have a tendency to apply our personal experiences to the criteria. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a Story where a watch brand reached out to me. The email came across extremely rude and suggested that although they had a budget for a campaign, they didn’t think I was important enough to be paid. However, they love my content so would I like an extra watch instead?
Consider this: they were honest by sharing their thoughts, does that make them authentic? I could argue that they weren’t because being blunt and condescending doesn’t mean that you’re ‘real’ – it just makes you an asshole. And that’s the same for people, I would know because sometimes I call things out and yes, I sound like a massive dick. Without diverging too much, my perspective on the whole payment thing is this – either there’s no budget because you’re an entrepreneur working from your kitchen table or a brand can afford to hire a PR person to contact influencers but you don’t want to extend that budget to investing in quality content. In which case you better have an incredible product and reputation.
Now this is the money question – what makes a brand valuable enough that we may even forgo payment, just to work with them? There’s a fragment of an answer in the last paragraph I wrote. Small businesses don’t immediately equate to genuine people or product but it’s a good place to start if you’re not hungry for paid work. Bigger brands show their gratitude by offering future opportunities and sometimes dangle the promise of remuneration (which from anecdotal experience never materialises). PR agencies pay you back ten times more with perks, events and exposure to a lot more brands. Boutique labels, as I’d like to call them, respond personally and really take care throughout the whole collaboration. That’s what I call an authentic partnership.
Some courier the product themselves, others write handwritten notes and email you a sincere ‘thank you’. They’re also more likely to credit you if they repost your images.
Of course, everyone’s experience will be different. However, I’ll leave you with a few pointers of how I find authentic brands to reach out to or work with:
- Original content on their feed/ credited reposted images
- Stocked by reputable retailers or on a recognised platform (e.g. Etsy) and/or they have a professional website
- If it’s unpaid work, the agreement should be non-committal because they just want you to like the product and provide genuine feedback
- Reasonable terms of agreement – they don’t want to lock you in a full exclusivity contract without sufficient remuneration
- Friendly and professional representatives
I realise that for a lot of us, regardless of number, being picky may not seem like a favourable option. But I cannot stress enough, if you got this far in this post then take away this last piece of advice: it’s not worth working with an inauthentic brand, it will impact your future collaborations and paid work. As a collective we have to stop looking short term and stick together. Authentic brands encourage genuine blogging so let’s move towards that.
Nobody’s Child dress
Nasty Gal tights and glasses