Essay: Authenticity in Advertising

This paper will analyze three advertisements from three different brands, all of which are promoting handmade artisanal bread. The advertisements come from Helga’s Continental Bakehouse, Harmons Grocery, and the German brand, Lieken Urkorn. Despite being from different brands, all three advertisements employ a sense of authenticity within their product. The three advertisements are promoting farm to table, organic, all-natural bread. Through the use of imagery, narration, and text, these advertisement work to give meaning to the simplistic product of bread by giving it a sense of authenticity. To signify authenticity, these advertisements assemble signs that enable the personal relationship between consumer and producer, product quality, craft production, and un-alienated labor. The advertisements work off of the idea of romanticism and the authenticity that comes from non-manufactured, hand-crafted goods. In order to convey this meaning through the advertisements to viewers, the advertisers work to create an assemblage of signs that remove all elements of the commodity form and replace them with realism, personalism and naturalism.

Advertisements:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbE3CsJNa8g – Helga’s Mixed grain bread
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaLWfsXMRCk – Harmons grocery
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6OPrLUm3jQ – Lieken Urkorn

The sign systems within the advertisements work to romanticize the past. They reminisce for and recall a time where creators cared about craft and quality. As through assembling signs that connote tradition and craft, the product is given a more powerful and authentic meaning as opposed to an overtly commercialized one. This can be seen in the advertisements of other products such as fine wine as, “Likewise, fine wine producers seek to downplay scientific and commercial capabilities in favor of tradition, culture, and craft to create a powerful image of authenticity” (Beverland & Lindgreen & Vink, 2008, p. 5). The Helga’s advertisement creates this meaning through the rural farm setting and the Harmons advertisement creates it through the use of phrases such as “in the old days” and “back then”. Thus, the past and rural culture are representative of authentic work, as Goldman and Papson state, “the past, whether ethnic, or rural is remembered as a time when people cared about making quality products” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 149). This nostalgia and romanticism for past ways of product creation is transferred onto the products as they utilize the pre-production process in the making of their bread. This transfers the meaning of authenticity, as “authentic production has long been associated with craft production” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p.149). This notion of craft production is generally viewed as authentic as there is a connection made between the creator and the product as the creator genuinely cares for their craft. As Goldman and Papson state, “the common assumption is that when labor is self-directed and uncoerced, the worker cares about the product he or she makes” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p.149).

In the Helga’s advertisement, the subject used is an old man who is baking the bread alone. He begins in the early hours of the morning, so early that it is still dark outside, and finishes just as the sun begins to rise. This man represents the hard work, dedication, and passion that go into natural baking. The use of this subject represents not only a romanticism for the past as he is elderly and may have been baking before mass production was so common, but also the connection between creator and product as he is still continuing his craft even in old age. The Harmons ad works to romanticize the past through the narration. The narrator begins with the phrase “in the old days, breadmaking was considered a skilled craft”, later the advertisement goes on to say, “at Harmons, we believe that’s still the way bread should be made”. This narration romanticises the past and recalls a time before mass production or “frozen dough”. This gives meaning to the product as it makes the product feel genuine and nostalgic. In addition, the narration conveys the message that the brand cares about its product and will not trade quality for anything else.  The third advertisement, by Lieken Urkorn uses no narration, however, the message is shown through images created in flour conveying the story of farm to table bread. It begins with the growing of the wheat and finishes with someone eating the bread in their home. The story gives meaning to the product as it never touched a machine, or factory of any sorts. The product is given authenticity through the portrayal of an all-natural, organic, hand made process. All three advertisements have signifiers within that work to make the viewer romanticize the past. Therefore, through the purchase of this commodity, artisanal bread, the product creation and authenticity of the past can be adopted in modern times.

Product authenticity conveyed through advertising works as it presents an escape from the commodity form and mass consumption. Elements of the commodity form include abstract labor, market relations, impersonalism, exchange value, and standardization (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 151). Individuals strive to situate themselves outside of this spectrum through the consumption of ‘authentic’ goods. However, while this consumption in rejection to consumption poses a contradiction, the consumption of authentic products may be more fulfilling. The advertisements in question give meaning to the artisanal, individuated, and hand-crafted product that rejects any sense of mass consumption. Through this, these brands differentiate themselves and give their brand higher value than factory created bread brands. In doing so, the authentic product is deemed more desirable and of ‘higher class’. As Goldman and Papson state, “Concerns about product authenticity are an extension of questions about the self, since we often presuppose that the products we select reflect on our character and our identity. These are status distinction issues, with higher status linked to those who consume the most authentic objects” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 142). Therefore, through the usage of signifiers that connote authenticity, these brands are making their relatively mundane commodity, bread, be deemed a higher status commodity.

The signifiers that work to create the idea of a high-end commodity is that of originality, craftsmanship, handmade, and purity. For example, in an advertisement selling Italian hand-crafted shoes, the advertisement may display authenticity through images of someone hand sewing the shoes, carefully crafting the leather, and selecting the finest fabrics. In the three bread advertisements, viewers are shown someone handmaking the dough, carefully crafting rolls, and selecting the finest ingredients. This commonality displays an example of the social and cultural shared meaning of quality as authenticity. In order for these signs to work they must appear truthful, honest, real, and pure. The Helga’s and Harmons advertisements do this by following a subject who is baking the bread from start to finish. By allowing the viewer to see to process from start to finish they are able to assume this is how the product is always made and is the genuine production process for the loaf of bread.

In addition, signifiers within the cinematography work to create this sense of realism. Both the Helga’s and Harmons advertisement use slow motion shots to show the authentic creation of the bread. In addition, the Helga’s and Lieken Urkorn advertisements use soft, romantic music, both from real instruments with no technological disruption, just like the bread.  However, the largest signifier of this realism and craftsmanship is shown through the focus on the bakers’ hands. The Harmons advertisement does not show the bakers face until over halfway through the advertisement, and Lieken Urkorn’s advertisement never shows the subjects face. This emphasis on the hands shows the dedication and precision that goes into each handmade loaf. While Harmons and Helga’s advertisements may use a more literal approach, Lieken Urkorn’s is more metaphorical. This advertisement displays someone’s hands drawing the creation of the bread from start to finish, it does so in flour. This represents the simplicity of the product through the use of just flour, but also the reliance on the workers hands in order to create the bread. At the end the line reads “Aus guten händen” which translates to, “from good hands”. The product is given authenticity as these signs work to give it a ‘down-to-earth and personal quality. In addition, it is working to reiterate the notion of the producer and consumer relationship. Thus, by drawing off of signifiers of simplicity, realism, and craftsmanship, these advertisements critique and reject the commodity form in exchange for authenticity.

Authentic advertisements offer an escape from the capitalist, bourgeoisie society by promoting individual experience and down-to-earth qualities. As Goldman and Papson state, “authenticity is expressed as an attitude toward the world, and – perhaps more important – toward oneself” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p.145). Authenticity represents a sort of nakedness, and exposure. It represents the true, uncovered self which “within the conception of human nature, nakedness became the archetypal metaphor for authenticity” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 145). This ideology is adopted by commodities through the term ‘organic’. Organic is a product term that mirrors the ideologies of nakedness. Organic products are untouched, natural and simplistic. Therefore, signifiers that represent organic, give added meaning to authenticity. These signifiers include, the shots of oats in burlap sacks, wood burning ovens, and hand-made dough.

However, authenticity does not just come from the ingredients. Authenticity is found in the place the product is made, the authenticity of the people who make it; and the authenticity of those who buy it (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 149).  In Helga’s advertisement, the product is made in a rural factory (a factory without machinery and production lines). The Harmons advertisement shows the bread being made right behind the counter of where one would go to purchase it, making the bread appear ultimately fresh. Both scenarios show the creation of the bread in an anti-Fordism scenario, thus rejecting notions of mass consumption and capitalism. This imagery shows how, “Labor is nonstandardized and the objects produced are one-of-a kind (this is why handmade objects connote greater authenticity)” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p. 149). Therefore, the appeal and value of authentic goods is greater. In addition, the continual reference to the past, or original product gives greater meaning to the present one. As stated, “the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity” (Goldman & Papson, 1996, p.155). Thus, by all three advertisements continuing to utilize the baking process of bread that had been used throughout history, they draw upon the meaning of the original to give authenticity to the present product. 

All three advertisements do not over commercialize the products, they do not use celebrities, and they do not cover the advertisement in branding. The advertisements are authentic or present authenticity in a way that works because they reject Fordism and other capitalist notions of consumption. Instead they connote their commodity with notions of realism, dedication, and craftsmanship. The advertisements assemble signs that connote tradition, hard work, dedication, and passion. This in turn gives the product meaning as an authentic product. However, all products are still a part of consumerism, therefore what these advertisements achieve is offering the viewer an authentic sense of self. As through the purchase of this commodity, the viewer can adopt the meaning given to the product as a part of their sense of individualism. As in turn, if one purchases an authentic commodity, they too are given elements of authenticity within themselves. The advertisements created by Helga’s Mixed Grain Bread, Harmons Grocery, and Lieken Urkorn give authentic meaning to their bread by romanticizing the past and placing it within their product, fetishizing artisanal hand-crafted goods, and removing all aspects of the commodity form.

References

Beverland, M. B., Lindgreen, A., & Vink, M. W. (2008). Projecting authenticity through advertising: Consumer judgments of advertisers’ claims. Journal of Advertising, 37(1), 5-15. doi:10.2753/JOA0091-3367370101

Goldman, R., Papson, S. (1996). Authenticity in the Age of the Poseur. Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising.

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