Antecedents and Consequences of Authenticity in the Marketplace
Consumers value and seek authenticity in the marketplace, including in their products, themselves, and others. Due to its appeal to consumers, the study of authenticity in the marketplace has recently accelerated in consumer research. Adding to this research, in this work I explore antecedents and consequences of perceived authenticity related to both consumers and market offerings.
Essay 1 (“Goldilocks Signaling: How the Number of Signaling Items in an Ensemble Affects Perceptions of Consumer Authenticity”) explores how multi-product signals—consumption ensembles—are perceived by observers. Specifically, this research explores how the number of identity-signaling items (e.g., Nike items) a consumer includes in their ensemble affects observer perceptions of the consumer’s identity-specific authenticity (e.g., authenticity as an athlete). If consumers wish to be seen as authentic, essay 1 demonstrates that they have to balance self-presentation with the perception that they are trying too hard to signal. Accordingly, I find that consumers with ensembles featuring a moderate or “just right” number of signaling items are generally (with some boundaries) perceived as most authentic in relation to the identity they are signaling—a “Goldilocks signaling” effect. I demonstrate that consumers make these inferences both spontaneously, without direct prompting regarding authenticity from experimenters, and reflecting the choice patterns of more versus less authentic consumers. Furthermore, such perceptions are important to consumers’ social relationships; I demonstrate that perceived authenticity can affect how much observers like the identity-signaling consumer and how confident they are in the consumer’s identity-relevant skill. This research is one of very few experimental papers in consumer behavior to consider ensemble signaling and provides new insights into the psychological processes underlying judgments of consumers’ authenticity.
Essay 2 (“True to the Original or to the Creator? How Consumers Navigate the Tension Between Iconic and Expressive Authenticity in Evaluations of Creative Adaptations”) explores the role of authenticity in consumers’ evaluations of creative adaptations by leveraging the context of cover songs. I demonstrate that consumers’ evaluations of cover songs are driven by the relative value they place on the cover’s iconic—truth to the original—and expressive—truth to the cover artist—authenticity. Greater difference from the original causes consumers to perceive the cover song as more expressively authentic but less iconically authentic. Consumers often value both these types of authenticity, hence causing them to prefer cover songs that are moderately versus more or less different from their original. Consumers who are highly attached to the original, however, place increased value on iconic authenticity and hence prefer cover songs that are less different from their beloved original. In addition to showing support for this theory, I cast doubt on other, more general theories that could drive this effect. My findings provide a first detailed view of how multiple different types of authenticity affect consumer evaluations.
Together, these essays advance understanding of antecedents and consequences of multiple types of authenticity for both consumers (essay 1) and consumption objects (essay 2) in the marketplace.
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