The quest for authenticity:
According to Gilmore, the American consumer economy has moved through three distinct stages, from agrarian to industrial to service, to arrive at what he terms in his book the “experience” stage. To sell a product today, a company must also sell a story, a transformation. A new pickle company needing to differentiate itself can’t simply rely on people needing to eat (agrarian), or undercutting the competition on price (industrial) or convenience (service). The way to sell that jar of pickles is to tell consumers about how it’s an old-country recipe from the Romanian hills, using heirloom cucumbers grown upstate and fresh dill from the factory’s rooftop garden, and it was crafted only two miles from here in a facility that used to make No. 3 pencils.
“We define authenticity,” Gilmore told me over the phone, “as purchasing on the basis of conforming to self-image. ‘I like that, I am like that.’” Authenticity is about buying into a product that confirms what you already think, or want to think, about yourself. Of course things like quality and durability are all mixed up in that; the Romanian-Brooklyn pickles are, probably, pretty good, and the fact that the buyer wants to see himself as the type of person who buys cool weird pickles doesn’t negate the fact that the buyer may also recognize that the pickles are better than Claussen’s. In fact, that’s part of it: Self-awareness of the purchase is key to the purchase itself.