Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2023 is ‘authentic.’ Here’s how corporate America hacked the consumer cult of authenticity

December 26, 2023 | by


The word of the year for 2023, according to Merriam-Webster, is ‘authentic.’ This article explores how corporate America has capitalized on the consumer desire for authenticity. Brands like Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s have successfully scaled authenticity, using it as a central moral framework to build lasting brands. Consumers have long sought authenticity in various goods and experiences, attracted to the idea that they are free from commercial motives. This quest for uniqueness and individuality amidst mass production has led consumers to favor independent, family-run establishments over chains. The concept of authenticity emerged in response to industrialization, and it has only grown in importance in today’s high-tech landscape. Corporate brands have embraced authenticity, employing various tactics to simulate a sense of uniqueness and tradition. However, this manufactured ideal raises questions about the true nature of authenticity and the commodification of identity.

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2023 is ‘authentic.’ Here’s how corporate America hacked the consumer cult of authenticity

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Table of Contents


Introduction to Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster recently announced that “authentic” was its 2023 word of the year, due to a surge in online search queries. This reflects the growing importance of authenticity as a concept in society and popular culture.

The significance of ‘authentic’ as the word of the year

The selection of ‘authentic’ as the word of the year highlights its increasing significance in our daily lives. It has become a moral framework that guides our choices and influences our perceptions of media, culture, and politics.

Consumer desire for authenticity

Consumers have long sought authenticity in the products and experiences they encounter. This desire for authenticity stems from a longing for goods and services that appear to lack commercial motivations and instead embody a genuine, individualized character.

Exploring the concept of authenticity

Authenticity is a complex and multifaceted concept. It encompasses notions of uniqueness, originality, and integrity. It is a quality that consumers value and seek in various aspects of their lives, particularly in a world characterized by mass production and homogeneity.

Corporate America’s Response

Global brands embracing authenticity

Global brands such as Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s have successfully embraced the concept of authenticity. These brands have been able to scale authenticity by creating a sense of uniqueness and individuality while maintaining their global reach.

Scaling authenticity in corporate settings

One of the challenges faced by corporations is how to maintain authenticity on a large scale. It is not easy to capture the essence of authenticity in a standardized way across numerous locations and operations. However, certain global brands have been able to strike a balance by incorporating local elements and promoting a sense of community.

The challenge of maintaining authenticity on a large scale

Maintaining authenticity on a large scale can be challenging due to the need for consistency and standardization in operations. However, some corporations have been able to overcome this challenge by incorporating localized elements and engaging with local communities.

The role of branding in promoting authenticity

Branding plays a crucial role in promoting authenticity. Companies use branding strategies to communicate their values and create a sense of authenticity. This involves crafting narratives, emphasizing origin stories, and utilizing vintage aesthetics to evoke a sense of tradition and heritage.

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2023 is ‘authentic.’ Here’s how corporate America hacked the consumer cult of authenticity

The Quest for Uniqueness

Understanding the consumer desire for uniqueness

Consumers today have a strong desire for uniqueness and individuality. They seek products and experiences that stand out from the mass-produced and standardized offerings available in the market. This quest for uniqueness is closely tied to the concept of authenticity.

The relationship between authenticity and individual identity

Authenticity is closely linked to individual identity. Consumers seek authentic products and experiences that align with their values, beliefs, and personal identities. They want to express their uniqueness and differentiate themselves from others through their consumer choices.

The impact of mass production on consumer demand for authenticity

The rise of mass production has led to a saturation of homogeneous products in the market. As a result, consumers are increasingly seeking authentic alternatives that offer a sense of individuality and uniqueness. This has created a demand for products that are handmade, small-batch, and curated.

The Evolution of Authenticity

The historical origins of the authenticity concept

The concept of authenticity has its roots in the response to industrialization during the 18th and 19th centuries. As machines became more prevalent in society, there was a growing disenchantment with mass-produced goods and a desire for products that were genuine and traditional.


Authenticity as a response to industrialization

Authenticity emerged as a response to the alienation brought about by industrialization. People longed for a return to a simpler and more genuine way of life. This desire for authenticity has persisted and evolved over time, shaping consumer behavior and corporate practices.

How corporations market authenticity today

Today, corporations market authenticity by adopting strategies that evoke a sense of uniqueness and individuality. They emphasize craftsmanship, heritage, and tradition to create a perception of authenticity. Brands also highlight their origin stories to establish trust and authenticity in the eyes of consumers.

The appeal of vintage aesthetics

Vintage aesthetics have gained popularity in recent years due to their association with authenticity. Brands utilize retro designs, slogans, and logos to tap into consumers’ nostalgia and evoke a sense of authenticity. These aesthetics create a connection to the past and a perception of authenticity.

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2023 is ‘authentic.’ Here’s how corporate America hacked the consumer cult of authenticity

The Illusion of Authenticity

The contradiction of authenticity in mass-produced goods and services

Despite consumer demand for authenticity, there is a fundamental contradiction in the production of mass-produced goods and services. It is challenging to create a genuine sense of authenticity when products are produced on a large scale and standardized.

The role of origin stories in creating authenticity

Brands often rely on origin stories to create a perception of authenticity. These stories highlight the brand’s heritage, values, and connection to a specific place or culture. However, the authenticity of these origin stories may be questioned, as they are often crafted for marketing purposes.

The tension between corporate profit motives and consumer desire for authenticity

There is a tension between the profit motives of corporations and the consumer’s desire for authenticity. While consumers seek genuine, individualized experiences, corporations are driven by the need for profitability and efficiency. Balancing these goals can be challenging and may result in compromises on authenticity.

The manufactured ideal of authenticity

Authenticity can also be seen as a manufactured ideal. Brands strive to create an image of authenticity that appeals to consumers but may not always reflect the true essence of the brand. This can lead to skepticism and questioning of the authenticity of corporate claims.

Nostalgia and Rapid Change

The relationship between authenticity and nostalgia

Authenticity and nostalgia are closely intertwined. In times of rapid change and technological advancements, there is a longing for the past and a desire for the simplicity and authenticity it represents. Nostalgia evokes a sense of authenticity and offers a connection to a bygone era.

The longing for agrarian simplicity in an industrialized world

Industrialization and technological advancements have led to a longing for agrarian simplicity. As society becomes increasingly automated and digitized, there is a desire for a return to a more authentic and grounded way of life. This longing is expressed through consumer choices and preferences.

The impact of high-tech advancements on the desire for authenticity

Paradoxically, high-tech advancements have fueled the desire for authenticity. As technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, there is a greater craving for real, tangible experiences and products. This desire for authenticity is a response to the intangibility and virtual nature of technology.

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2023 is ‘authentic.’ Here’s how corporate America hacked the consumer cult of authenticity

The Business of Authenticity

How corporations capitalize on the consumer cult of authenticity

Corporations have recognized the consumer cult of authenticity and have capitalized on it to promote their brands. They employ marketing strategies that create an image of authenticity, utilizing elements such as origin stories, vintage aesthetics, and localized experiences.

Strategies for promoting authenticity in corporate settings

To promote authenticity in corporate settings, companies can prioritize individualization and personalization. They can create unique experiences and products that resonate with consumers’ values and identities. Emphasizing craftsmanship and heritage can also contribute to promoting authenticity.

The potential pitfalls of corporate authenticity

While corporate authenticity can be an effective marketing tool, there are potential pitfalls to be aware of. Brands must be careful not to overstate or misrepresent their authenticity, as consumers are increasingly skeptical and discerning. It is important to strike a balance between authenticity and profitability.

The future of authenticity in consumer culture

Authenticity is likely to continue to play a significant role in consumer culture. As consumers become more conscious of their choices and seek personalized experiences, authenticity will remain a sought-after quality. It will be essential for brands to adapt and evolve their strategies to meet changing consumer expectations.


The enduring appeal of authenticity

Authenticity holds a strong appeal for consumers, as it represents uniqueness, individuality, and a break from mass-produced homogeneity. It is a concept that resonates across various aspects of consumer culture and influences consumer behavior.

The complexity of authenticity in corporate settings

Maintaining authenticity in a corporate setting poses challenges due to the need for standardization and profitability. However, corporations can navigate these challenges by incorporating localized elements and emphasizing craftsmanship and heritage.

The implications for consumer behavior and corporate practices

The emphasis on authenticity in consumer culture has implications for both consumer behavior and corporate practices. Consumers are seeking products and experiences that align with their values and individual identities. Corporations must respond to this demand by prioritizing authenticity and genuine connection with consumers.

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