A Question of Authenticity and Designer Sunglasses


A friend passed on a post fake chickby Mind Hacks the other day all about the consequences of faking it. The post cites a recent behavioral study (full PDF results) that was conducted to see how giving someone something deemed “fake” affects their behavior, honesty and sense of ethics. Interesting, right?

In the study, the participants were given either real or “fake” designer sunglasses. In truth, NONE of the sunglasses were fake.  They were ALL real. Participants were then monitored during a series of tests and questioned to see if there were any noticeable behavioral differences between the group with the real glasses and the one’s wearing the “fake” set.

Question: Would the mere implication of being inauthentic change participants’ views and behavior?

Answer: Yes. Overwhelmingly.

The participants who were told they were wearing fake sunglasses were more likely to cheat on the tests and be more suspicious than those who were told they were wearing designer glasses. The study showed that wearing the ‘fake’ sunglasses increased personal feelings of being inauthentic for the participants, leading to measurable negative effects in their behavior and a strong change in attitude. It also showed that once someone was dishonest, they became more and more dishonest as the test went on. [Or, for the ladies, “once a cheater, always a cheater”.]

Now, imagine we’re not talking about inauthentic sunglasses. Imagine we’re talking about inauthentic brands and the reactions that customers have to them.  Do you really think it’s any different?

It’s not. Brands who give off a feeling of being inauthentic transfer that feeling right over to their customers.  Instead of “something real” they offer counterfeit interactions which taint the experience and alter how consumers see them in the future.   It affects customer loyalty and their perception of your company.

Make a consumer feel as though you faked an interaction and turn all future interactions suspect.  Cheaters rarely change their stripes just like Zappos would never send you fake shoes. Your brand is the feeling consumers associate with your company.  Don’t fake it.

Your Comments

  • Stuart Foster

    This is why our special brand of “unadulterated honesty and inability to take b.s.” is so enlightening in this day and age Lisa.

    Everyone else is so concerned with people pleasing that they aren’t able to really stretch themselves and become more then what they are.

    I learn the most when I make an incredibly stupid statement and someone calls me on it. Wouldn’t have it any other way either.

  • Rob Sellen

    For the men… “once a cheater, always a cheater” :)
    It’s never only men Lisa, maybe you just pick the wrong ones!

    Interesting take on the “fake” effect.

    What would have made it more interesting would have been if they then reversed it, IE… swapped the glasses around with the same people, then got them to take another test similar in vein than the one they first did, would that have then changed them too?

    Not alot different to those people who lie in general being unable to let it effect everything they do and those around them, quite often without even realising it.


  • Molly Buckley

    Hey Lisa, great post!

    I think making the comparison between your “personal brand” and a “designer brand” has such a great parallel. Considering even how when some people get “big” – popup imposters start to show up.

    I feel like it is so important, now more than ever, to stick to your brand and be genuine with your brand. Tech users are savvy and will see through the phony, just like savvy fashionistas will identify a fake pair of Chanel glasses.


  • Joe Hall

    Um this study is BS.

    Correlation isn’t causation. (yes, thats a real word.)

    Its ridiculous to assume that behavior can change based on what you are wearing. Why? Because, we choose what to wear! When the participants were given sunglasses and told they were fake, they were also given the choice to keep and wear the sun glasses. They could have thrown them out, or decided not to participate anymore. Instead they choose to wear fake goods. This decision didn’t not alter their behavior in anyway, it just highlighted who they already are.

    If you engage a brand that has a poor reputation, or is fake, then maybe that isn’t going to change you, but rather just highlight who you really are.

    • Lisa Barone

      Its ridiculous to assume that behavior can change based on what you are wearing.

      Did you attend high school?

      It’s not about wearing you’re wearing a knockoff or the real thing. It’s whether you know that YOU’RE either being real or you’re not being real. In the study, they kept participating for the money, I’d imagine, but we do the same thing IRL. We’re just not paid for it. IMO. :)

      • Joe Hall

        High school kids aren’t real people, don’t bring them into this.

        Its still a choice. In this day and age if you choose to engage fakes, while fully aware of them being fake. Then maybe you are fake too.

        Case closed.

        • Lisa Barone

          High school kids aren’t real people, don’t bring them into this.

          Ha! :)

          But it’s not always a choice. Some people, despite how much they HATE Comcast, have to use the service because it’s the only option. Sometimes you’re stuck with a company because that’s how the world works. We don’t always have the option to choose “authentic”, that’s why we get really excited and vocal when we do.

  • john andrews

    I like that you just gave marketers a whole new angle for pitching designer goods online… pay full price because it will make you more successful (via your behavior).

    I don’t like that you cited more of this “junk science” we see published so commonly today. If we readers aren’t skeptical, the junk keeps coming because there are almost no barriers to publishing it today.

    • Joe Hall

      “junk science” – Agreed.

    • Lisa Barone

      Props on the term “junk science”.

      I don’t think it’s bullshit. I think it shows an interesting relationship between feeling inauthentic and the types of behavior that inspires in people. People interact with authentic brands differently than they do with inauthentic ones — because it’s a matter of the feeling they give off and what inspires in you. I know it all sounds very rainbows and sunshine, but sometimes its about rainbows and sunshine. I wouldn’t steal a pair of shoes from Zappos. I would, however, have no problem thefting 6 months of free cable from Comcast.

      • Ben Cook

        I don’t think John is necessarily disagreeing with your argument about authenticity helping or hurting brands (he may be but that’s not how I was reading his comment).

        I think he’s more arguing with the methods & conclusions of the study you cited.

  • john andrews

    Ben’s right.. and so is Lisa. But no matter how much you might believe the study observations are true, they are not evidence-based. That study is perfectly good research for someone at some stage of their career, but it doesn’t support the claims made in the report. Someone probably feels inadequate… not ready to accept that most research does not produce amazing results.

    I’d put more value in Lisa’s own observations, presented as such, without any need to back them up with some junk pseudo science pop psychology “study”. I’d also feel better about my tax bill knowing less money was wasted on junk.

    There are reasons why we don’t have money for serious research, but spend wastefully on lots of crappy stuff. One of them has to do with how we support the crap and criticize the stuff that takes time and commitment but doesn’t yield immediate, remarkable, “I knew that was true” claims.

    Note: I didn’t look to see if the research cited was taxpayer supported, but most of it is either directly through grants or fellowships, or indirectly through the universities and their faculty.

  • Data Entry Services

    Not sure if I would make any real applications from this but it’s an interesting study.

  • Srinivas Rao


    I think that much of what you mention here could be applied to bloggers as well. Finding an authentic voice is something that they need to work towards and if that means being unfiltered and letting go of the fear of pushing publish (on posts that you think you shouldn’t), then so be it.

  • Melinda

    I’m wondering how Tiger Wood’s “inauthenticity” will affect his brand and those that use him to endorse their brands.