The Perils of Proclaiming an Authentic Organizational Identity

Balázs Kovács, Glenn R. Carroll, David W. Lehman

Sociological Science, January 23, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a4

An emerging body of research consistently demonstrates that individuals in developed consumer markets value authenticity. But how individuals respond to organizations that tout their identities as authentic is not so well understood. We argue that organizational attempts at explicitly proclaiming their own identity as authentic will generally be regarded by individuals with skepticism and devaluation. Across two studies with different research designs, we find consistent empirical evidence that individuals devalue organizations making identity self-claims of authenticity. The first study analyzed authenticity claims made in the texts of menus from 1,393 restaurants in Los Angeles and their corresponding 450,492 online consumer reviews recorded from 2009 to 2016. The second study used a controlled, minimalistic experimental setting with fictitious restaurant menus that examined reactions to generic authenticity self-claims. The findings illuminate how individuals respond to organizational identity claims about authenticity and raise interesting questions about other types of identity claims.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Balázs Kovács: School of Managment, Yale University

Glenn R. Carroll: Graduate School of Business, Stanford University

David W. Lehman: McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia

Acknowledgements: For comments on earlier drafts of this article, we appreciate the insights of James Burroughs, Oliver Hahl, Özgecan Koçak, Omar Lizardo, Nicole Montgomery, Kieran O’Connor, Lihua Wang, and Ezra Zuckerman. Participants at the 2016 Authenticity Workshop at the University of Virginia, the Organizational Ecology conference in Barcelona in 2014, and the Stanford GSB’s Macro Lunch group also made valuable suggestions.

  • Citation: Kovács, Balázs, Glenn R. Carroll, and David W. Lehman. 2017. “The Perils of Proclaiming an Authentic Organizational Identity.” Sociological Science 4: 80-106.
  • Received: October 30, 2016
  • Accepted: November 29, 2016
  • Editors: Delia Baldassarri
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a4

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