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  • 04.10.07

An Authenticity Timeline

From Disney’s opening of Main Street USA in 1955 to user-generated content, here’s a look at how authenticity has evolved over time.

A Recent History of Authenticity

Believing that authenticity is the “new IP”–because it’s a source of competitive advantage that can’t be copied–the folks at Ziba, the Portland, Oregon-based design consultancy, recently embarked on an effort to create a timeline (below) that traces authenticity’s recent evolution.

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The result of Ziba’s effort, which is very much a work-in-progress, gives the firm a glimpse of authenticity’s DNA, as it evolves from the 1950s world of Father Knows Best to the post-postmodern world we live in now. The timeline is not by any means the final word on authenticity’s ascent–it’s the first word, and we encourage you to suggest your own dates and insights. Also, this is an abridged version; the full-length depiction of authenticity’s historical journey is taped across the walls of one of Ziba’s conference rooms.

The sprawling document shows that our search for genuine experience and “real” brands is a powerful, enduring trend that’s been growing by the decade. It’s already helping to answer at least one critical question: Why does authenticity seemingly matter now more than ever?

“The rising importance of authenticity is driven by two forces that transcend everything–design, brands, politics, and sports,” concludes Steve McCallion, Ziba’s creative director. “First, it’s? easier than ever to fake it. Second, it’s easier than ever to get? caught.”

Era of Simulation

Manufacturing excellence and know-how make it increasingly difficult to differentiate between real and fake. Consolidation of manufacturing in OEM factories creates a “gray market” selling “near-real” items. The era of the knock-off.

1955: Disneyland opens, including a simulation of Main Street USA, based partially on Walt Disney’s boyhood home in Marceline, Missouri.

1960: Andy Warhol and other pop artists begin exploring the limits of representation and meaning.

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1968: Circus Circus casino opens in Las Vegas, functioning as “the largest permanent big top in the world” and ushering in Las Vegas’ version of “real fake” culture.

1975: China’s Zhou Enlai introduces “Industry” as one of the Four Modernizations, marking a period of business and scientific reform in China. China and Taiwan become hotbeds of low-price, high-volume manufacturing.

Era of Meaning

Abundance and transparency create a demand for meaning. Social networks leverage the Internet to expose insincere brands. The era of trust and passion.

1985: The calamitous launch of New Coke breaks consumer trust and brand equity, all because of insincere pandering to taste tests.

1989-1991: Tiananmen Square protests and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Images and coverage from Western news sources make it impossible for governments to control the flow of information. The dismantling of Communist Europe begins.

1994: Netscape launches its first browser, an instant success. The World Wide Web goes on to flatten the world and make it difficult for companies to fake it.

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1999: Establishment of epinions.com, focused on consumer-product reviews from real users instead of “experts.”

2001: The Internet bust, 9/11, the subsequent US recession, and corporate scandal leave Americans searching for “meaning, God and jihad.”

2002-’03: Nationally respected historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose and establishment journalists Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass become embroiled in plagiarism scandals, further eroding the public trust.

2003: Pew Research study shows that 21% of people aged 18-29 get their news mainly from the fake newscasts delivered by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live.

2005-’07: Consumers become original-content creators: YouTube launches and an explosion of user-generated video follows; “You” voted Time magazine’s Person of the Year; MySpace becomes the world’s sixth most popular Web site, picking up 80% of visits to all social-networking sites. Users close the digital loop on authenticity, becoming both originators and consumers of that which they have created.

 

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