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Analyst’s Take: A Look at Authenticity—Real and Manufactured

This outstanding article discusses howTough Mudder, the obstacle-course company that puts regular people through almost comically extreme challenges, is trying to clear one of the biggest hurdles in business: scaling from one-hit wonder to global phenomenon.”  This is a challenge that almost every fitness company faces, and the article includes lots of nuance regarding the difficulties involved in scaling a business whose appeal, to a large extent, rests on it being a sort of special, quasi-secret, club.

I’ve shared articles about the yogurt wars before, but am nonetheless including this one today because I think it’s a must-read. The failure of Yoplait, and the success of Chobani, is about so many things—the sleepiness of large CPG companies, the changing nature of branding and messaging, consumers’ desire for what they deem to be authenticity. 

Here’s a pull quote:

“So Yoplait began collecting data on how to become cool itself. The lust for numbers, however, doomed even its best efforts. There were dozens of proposed innovations — hipper labels for Yoplait Greek, yogurts that tasted like exotic beers or jalapeño peppers, recipes that made tongues tingle or supposedly whitened teeth — but whenever these concepts were tested, there was never enough data to push them forward.

The problem for Yoplait was that authenticity — like innovation — almost never tests well. This is a common phenomenon. ‘Data regresses to the mean,’ said James Gilmore, a professor at the University of Virginia and an author of ‘Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.’ ‘Something that’s really original, really authentic, it’s probably not going to score that well because people have a knee-jerk reaction against new things.’”

Faye Landes, co-founder and general partner of Back to the Future Ventures, advises emerging consumer and retail companies on strategy, branding and fundraising. She was one of Wall Street’s leading consumer and retail analysts for over 20 years and was widely recognized for her ability to anticipate sweeping trends, such as the widespread adoption of activewear. She has frequently appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg TV and other media outlets and has presented at industry conferences all over the world. Read her “Analyst’s Take” column here weekly. Contact her at