From natural diamonds to one-of-a-kind objects and brands, consumer demand for ‘authenticity’ is more than a trend.
As consumers begin shopping online and in stores for gifts this holiday season, new research shows that ‘authenticity’ is central to the value of a gift, and authenticity brings the most joy to recipients, according to a study released today by Yale University professor and psychologist Dr. George E. Newman.
The study, Consumer Preference for Authenticity and Naturalness, examines the psychology behind which holiday gifts mean the most and why, providing proof of consumer affinity for merchandise that is ‘authentic.’ Consumers say authenticity — actually being as described — is not just a trend. The research echoes previous authenticity studies where neuroscientists have found that the pleasure people report when viewing authentic works of art is correlated with activation within the brain.
“In today’s online marketplace, people are deluged with more choices than ever before,” said Dr. Newman, Associate Professor of Management and Marketing at the Yale School of Management. “But from natural diamonds to authentic brands, such as Apple or North Face, people are drawn to items because of their authenticity.”
An item can be authentic in several ways:
- Materials: A cashmere sweater is more authentic than a synthetic replica.
- Origin: A Louis Vuitton handbag manufactured in the company’s original workshop in Paris is valued as more authentic than an identical bag manufactured in the company’s California workshop.
- History: A painting that was physically created by Pablo Picasso is worth millions of dollars, while a replica (that was never touched by Picasso) is virtually worthless.
Naturalness: Natural diamonds formed by the earth three billion years ago are valued as more authentic than synthetic replicas created in factories for commercial purposes.
Key findings from Dr. Newman’s Consumer Preference for Authenticity and Naturalness include:
- Authenticity is appreciated by all ages: This was true for consumers, grouped by ages that spanned from 18-80.
- Consumers most appreciated specific authentic items: Of the 8 categories studied, frequently cited in consumer gift studies, the top gifts consumers appreciated were:
- An authentic branded product—such as a North Face jacket (93%) or an Apple Watch (86%),
- A natural diamond ring (86%), or
- A product made with authentic quality materials, such as a cashmere sweater (88%).
- Inauthentic products are disappointing: Some of the items people were most disappointed in receiving included lab-grown diamonds (31%) and knockoff shoes (36%).
- People would rather receive something else entirely, instead of a knockoff or fake: In place of a cashmere sweater, people would rather receive a wool sweater as a gift than a sweater with synthetic composition mimicking cashmere.
“Objects can radiate authenticity in many ways, from the natural materials or traditional craftsmanship that compose an item, to the origin of the item’s production or heritage of its brand story.” said Kristina Buckley Kayel, Managing Director of DPA North America. “The common theme found throughout authentic products, however, is their capacity to bestow emotional and sentimental value, whether purchased for one’s self or as a gift for a loved one.”
One additional finding highlighted that for identical authentic items, the origin or the history of the item’s story significantly influenced preference. When evaluating the importance of qualities such as rarity, origin and value over time, natural diamonds patterned closer to one-of-a-kind authentic items, such as a Babe Ruth autographed baseball, than luxury items. Meanwhile, lab-grown diamonds patterned closer to cubic zirconia. An item can also be valued as authentic because it is produced by a trusted, authentic brand, such as an Apple Watch, Nike shoes or parka from The North Face.
About Dr. George E. Newman
George Newman is an associate professor of marketing and management at the Yale School of Management. He also holds affiliated appointments in the department of psychology and the department of cognitive science at Yale University. He is an expert in consumer behavior and consumer decision-making. His recent work focuses on questions related to the concepts of authenticity, identity and the self.
He has published more than 50 articles in leading scholarly journals, and his research has been featured in popular media outlets such as The New York Times, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal and the Economist. He has led seminars on various marketing and management topics for senior executives in North America and Asia.
PhD, Yale University, 2008
MPhil, Yale University, 2007
MS, Yale University, 2005
BA, Northwestern University, 2002
The Diamond Producers Association is a global alliance of the world’s leading diamond producing companies, united in their commitment to best-in-class ethical and sustainable operations and business practices. Together, DPA Members represent the majority of the world’s diamond production.