How Important is Authenticity? Just Ask Bear Grylls.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Chris Brogan, who just happens to be a well-knownblogger and president of New Marketing Labs, wrote a paid for post for K-Mart. In spite of Chris’ up front disclosures about the relationship, a fire stormerupted in the blogosphere over the ethics of paid for content.

As you can probably imagine, this was a polarizing issue with one camp believing that it was okay for bloggers to get paid to write favorable posts as long as they were up front about their relationship with the company in question and the other insisting that mixing sponsorship and editorial bastardized the process, irrespective of disclosures. From an intellectual standpoint, I certainly can understand and respect the first camp’s position although my heart sits squarely in the second. [At at a minimum, you should read Chris' follow up post on the topic and decide for yourself.]

With that as a backdrop, I was surprised at how willing I was to overlook “authenticity” as a critical factor when it came to my television entertainment. In particular, I’m refrencing two shows on the Discovery Channel. The first titled, Man vs. Wild, where ex-British special forces macho man, Bear Grylls demonstrates survival in the most extreme locations. The second, Survivorman, featuring much more mundane and less heralded, Les Stroud, doing approximately the same. My wife and I quickly became addicted to first show last season as Bear demonstrated survival techniques in extreme environments such as the Alps, the Amazon and the Sahara Desert.

If you haven’t watched the show before, I’ve included a video clip below to show you just how captivating Bear can be. His fearless nature and “I’ll eat anything” mentality is contagious. I find myself thinking after every show, “I wonder if I could do that?” However, there turned out to be one catch. Not all of Bear’s extreme situations were truly “survival” worthy. In fact, the BBC wrote a fairly scathing piece spelling out a number of instances where Bear had either been assisted by his camera crew or even worse, stayed in a hotel vs. roughing it out in the wild.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXuFR7Cz4rk]

After reading about some of the less-than-flattering press Bear received, I thought it might be time to check out rival survival guru, Les Stroud, on aptly named, Survivorman. Unlike Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild, Les is hardcore about the authenticity of his treks out in the wild (he’s visited many of the same extreme climates as Grylls). In fact, he has chosen to eschew a camera crew and films everything himself. He also is dedicated to actually “surviving” out in the wild at nearly all costs. No hotels. No assistance. Just himself, his cameras and his knife.

That should make for entertaining television right? Unfortunately it doesn’t. Not for me anyway. The reason being that not a whole lot goes on during Survivorman other than a constant stream of self-wallowing by Les. I know this because I did a marathon four hour session over the holiday break with my family. At various points in the show, my 10 year old daughter was openly questioning the fact that Les, once again, was coming up empty handed in his attempts to actually catch something to eat. It turns out that Les is a lot better at enduring 5-6 days of no food (while incessantly complaining about light-headed and hungry he is) than he is at foraging for actual food (clip of Les below).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkx4z8W4pd4]

As you can imagine, this leaves me in an awful dilemma. I led off this post with the fact that while I was intellectually okay with the idea of paid for content, I had a hard time truly embracing this notion in my heart. So how is it that I would gravitate toward a guy that I know isn’t authentic (at least some of the time) while I do little to hide my disdain for a similar personality who is doing things by the book.

To help shed some light on my dilemma, I thought I might ask my Twitter network of nearly 4,000 to chime in. Surely they might feel the same way I did. The question I posed was, “Doing some research for a blog post I’m writing. It’s about authenticity. Any strong feelings either way RE Survivor Man VS Man vs. Wild?”

@Ninenty7: I know it is silly, but I don’t watch Bear’s show because he isn’t really out there in it.

@tallglassofmilk: Don’t watch either but overheard others saying one is for real b
y himself while the other pretends but has a crew. True?

@MikeLangford: This is the only situation ever where I’d say a guy named Les beats a guy named Bear. Survivor Man rules.

@dbcotton: Mixed feelings. Bear has better all around survivor skills, but Survivor Man is more realistic.

@LisaHoffman: Two of my 12 yo’s fave shows. He likes Bear better (me too) but says Survivorman is more authentic. M v. W more instructional

@tinycg: Survivorman is authentic and provides useful real tips.. Man v Wild is mostly staged and useful if you are ex-spec ops.

@SusanBratton: google “joe pine authenticity dishymix” for ideas for your blog post. Listen to the Podcast and/or read the transcripts. [Link to Susan's podcast with Joe is here]

@LisaHoffman: Bear is far more interesting because he engages the audience (sound familiar?) Survivorman is actually trying to survive, tho.

@peplau: @MikeLangford @tallglassofmilk Bear is also a bit of a fraud http://snipr.com/9u1dj Afraid it’s more than just having a crew.

@tallglassofmilk: Well, authenticity certainly doesn’t guarantee entertainment, especially in TV. Probably why so much “reality” is faked.

@jamessumerlin: absolutely survivorman, big fan.

@m750: Bear is entertainment, Les Stroud is the real deal.

@chareich: think survivorman seems a little less contrived. Man v wild – probably eats big macs off camera

@davidkspencer: Survivorman is where it’s at. Feels more real, less polished. This clip is what did man v. wild in for me: http://is.gd/25si

@ChrisKeef: missed the earlier tweet. I’m all about Survivorman, not Man vs. Wild. Les is far more genuine, raw and honest.

@ChrisKeef: I will agree that Bear is more ‘entertaining’, however Survivorman seems more organic. Easier to believe, I guess.

Not surprisingly, nearly everyone that responded validated what I suspected that they would i.e. authenticity was more important than entertainment value by a long shot. @m750 hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that “Bear is entertainment [but] Les Stroud is the real deal.”

As a marketer, this tells me that it doesn’t matter how slick, exciting or entertaining the content is that our company creates, at the end of the day our customers will want us to be authentic. For their sake though, I promise not to whine about how sore my fingers are after several hours of typing or how much of a caffeine headache I have as a result of my forgoing my morning coffee.

How about you? Are you being authentic in the way you communicate with your customers? Seems to me that there’s a reason why Josh Bernoff and Forrester’s customer survey shows that only 16% of people trust corporate blogs. Sounds like we all have a lot of work to do. Just ask Bear.

Originally posted on http://theengagedconsumer.powered.com