A couple days ago on the blog I remarked on the issue of authenticity in my short review of Tarquin Hall’s Indian detective story. I wish I could say I inspired Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution to then do the work of finding an academic study… but I think it was just coincidence that he posted a link to this study.
We present two studies that together test a fundamental yet rarely examined assumption underlying the contemporary appeal of authenticity—namely, that consumers assign higher value ratings to organizations regarded as authentic. Study 1 conducts content analysis of unsolicited online restaurant reviews entered voluntarily by consumers in three major U.S. metropolitan areas from October 2004 to October 2011; the data contain information from 1,271,796 reviews written by 252,359 unique reviewers of 18,869 restaurants. The findings show that consumers assign higher ratings to restaurants regarded as authentic, even after controlling for restaurant quality in several ways. In addition, we find that consumers perceive independent, family-owned, and specialist single-category restaurants as more authentic than they do chain, non-family-owned, and generalist multiple-category restaurants. Study 2 reinforces these findings using an experimental design in which participants were presented with photos and minimal descriptions of fictitious restaurants and then asked to evaluate the likely authenticity, quality, and overall value of the restaurants in a predetermined sequence. Central to both studies is an authenticity scale that was developed through the use of an online survey that ascertains the specific language used by individuals in referencing authenticity in the restaurant domain. Taken together, these studies demonstrate that authenticity generates higher consumer value ratings of organizations; the studies also identify certain types of organizations that are more likely to receive authenticity attributions by consumers.