We live in an age where ‘authenticity’ is being elevated to near cult status. A combination of factors from the global financial crisis, to social media, to MPs putting the odd duck house on their expenses has propelled us into a feeding frenzy.
What we demand from our leaders is transparency and authenticity.
Politicians, regulators and campaigning groups call for transparency all the time. Transparency about money, transparency about policies and transparency about mistakes.
Authenticity is the anthropomorphic move of transparency into the personal. We assign authenticity to people if we think they are ‘telling it straight’, in other words being transparent.
Authenticity and public tolerance
So great is the desperation for ‘authenticity’, that the public assigns something new – tolerance – to those who project ‘authentic’: Tolerance of mistakes, of stupidity and ‘misspeaks’, tolerance even of bad dressing (and wild hair).
For me Donald Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK are the key political figures riding the ‘authenticity’ wave. (Although as we have noted before in this blog, Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the UK Labour party has also benefited from this.) Both Trump and Johnson are hugely popular and both have said and done stupid things that others would never recover from.
Authenticity: Trump and Johnson
In 2004 Boris Johnson was sent to Liverpool by the then Conservative leader Michael Howard to apologise for an offensive article written in the Spectator. Remind yourself here.
He was trashed in a long interview with Eddie Mair for, among other things, lying about an extramarital affair and allegedly offering to provide the address of a journalist to a friend who wanted to duff him up. It’s a long and rather nasty interview in which Johnson keeps his cool remarkably well. The moments I have mentioned are nine 9½ and 10½ minutes in.
Here is a list of some of the stupid things Donald trump has said.
Authenticity builds Teflon
Whether in the end, either of them achieve their political ambition remains to be seen. But those of writing, thinking and advising about issues of PR must take note that the best way to build a layer of Teflon is to come across as ‘authentic’.
Photo credits: Donald Trump Creative comms on Flickr. Boris Johnson Creative comms by Andrew Parson iImages on Flickr.
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