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Consumer perceptions of iconicity and indexicality and their influence on assessments of authentic market offerings

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Although consumer demand for authentic market offerings has often been men-tioned in consumer research, the meaning of the term "authentic" has not been sufficiently specified. Thus, some important differences among authentic market offerings have not been recognized or examined. This article uses Peirce's semiotic framework to distinguish between two kinds of authenticity—indexical and iconic. We identify the cues that lead to the assessment of each kind, and, based on data collected at two tourist attractions, we show that these cues can have a different influence on the benefits of consuming authenticity. Our results also contribute to an understanding of the negotiation of reality and fantasy as a part of consumption. C onsumer demand for authenticity has existed for hun-dreds of years. For example, from the ninth to the elev-enth centuries, interest in authentic religious relics in Europe helped to generate significant retail and tourism revenues (Phillips 1997). And, during the fifteenth and sixteenth cen-turies, diversity in consumer standards for authenticity in China created a flourishing market for luxury goods (Clunas 1992). Demand for authenticity persists today and is reflected in the purchase of a wide variety of market offerings, in-cluding travel souvenirs (Harkin 1995), ethnic food (Lu and Fine 1995), tickets to historical reconstructions (Handler and Gable 1997), and original art (Bentor 1993)—not to mention more conventional consumer goods and services such as ath-letic shoes and brokerage advice (Goldman and Papson 1996). In fact, Brown (2001) argues that one of modern marketing's central themes is the tension between authenticity and in-authenticity. During the last century, this tension has been intensified by technological advances, which have facilitated the effective simulation of authenticity (Benjamin 1969; Halliday 2001; Orvell 1989). But, as an Adweek columnist, and the JCR editor, associate editor, and reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts. Special thanks to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Sherlock Holmes Museum for gen-erously allowing access to their visitors.
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Consumer Perceptions of Iconicity and
Indexicality and Their Influence on
Assessments of Authentic Market Offerings
KENT GRAYSON
RADAN MARTINEC*
Although consumer demand for authentic market offerings has often been men-
tioned in consumer research, the meaning of the term “authentic” has not been
sufficiently specified. Thus, some important differences among authentic market
offerings have not been recognized or examined. This articleuses Peirce’ssemiotic
framework to distinguish between two kinds of authenticity—indexical and iconic.
We identify the cues that lead to the assessment of each kind, and, based ondata
collected at two tourist attractions, we show that these cues can have a different
influence on the benefits of consuming authenticity. Our results also contribute to
an understanding of the negotiation of reality and fantasy as a part of consumption.
Consumer demand for authenticity has existed for hun-
dreds of years. For example, from the ninth to the elev-
enth centuries, interest in authentic religious relics in Europe
helped to generate significant retail and tourism revenues
(Phillips 1997). And, during the fifteenth and sixteenth cen-
turies, diversity in consumer standards for authenticity in
China created a flourishing market for luxury goods (Clunas
1992). Demand for authenticity persists today and is reflected
in the purchase of a wide variety of market offerings, in-
cluding travel souvenirs (Harkin 1995), ethnic food (Lu and
Fine 1995), tickets to historical reconstructions (Handler and
Gable 1997), and original art (Bentor 1993)—not to mention
more conventional consumer goods and services such as ath-
letic shoes and brokerage advice (Goldman and Papson 1996).
In fact, Brown (2001) argues that one of modern marketing’s
central themes is the tension between authenticity and in-
authenticity. During the last century, this tension has been
intensified by technological advances, which have facilitated
the effective simulation of authenticity (Benjamin 1969;
Halliday 2001; Orvell 1989). But, as an Adweek columnist
*Kent Grayson is associate professor, Kellogg School of Manage-
ment, Northwestern University, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208
(k-grayson@kellogg.northwestern.edu). Radan Martinec is senior lecturer,
School of Media, London College of Communication, University of the
Arts London, London SE1 6SB (radan@martinec.demon.co.uk). The au-
thors thank the London Business School Centre for Marketing for financial
support and are grateful to Karolina Brodin, Athinodoros Chronis, Margaret
Hogg, Svetlana Kirillova, Robert Kozinets, Lysa Miller, Stefano Puntoni,
David Shulman, Craig Smith, and the JCR editor, associate editor, and
reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts. Special thanks to the
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Sherlock Holmes Museum for gen-
erously allowing access to their visitors.
recently noted, despite “all the attempts to fake it as a mar-
keting ploy,” the “appeal of authenticity seems oddly un-
diminished” (Dolliver 2001, p. 19). In light of authenticity’s
long-standing, persistent, and contemporary marketplace ap-
peal, it is a potentially significant and interesting topic for
consumer researchers.
Many scholars outside of marketing and consumer re-
search agree that authenticity is an important topic for study.
Authenticity has been the focus of several influential works
over the past several decades (Anderson 1990; Baudrillard
1983; Benjamin 1969; Boorstin 1987; Goodman 1976;
MacCannell 1999; Trilling 1972) and has been identified by
a number of scholars as a pivotal attribute of contemporary
life. For example, Lowenthal (1992, p. 184) suggests that
“the cult of authenticity pervades modern life,” and Jacknis
(1990, p. 9) says that “authenticity is a general preoccupation
of modern western culture.” Similarly, MacCannell (1999,
p. 145) calls the dialectics of authenticity “the key to the
development of the modern world,” and Orvell (1989, p.
xvi) argues that the tension between imitation and authen-
ticity “has been a key constituent in American culture since
the Industrial Revolution.” Perhaps because of its central
role in Western culture, authenticity has consistently pro-
vided fertile ground for research in anthropology, geogra-
phy, communication studies, philosophy, archaeology, aes-
thetics, tourism, literary criticism, and sociology (in this
article, we cite examples of published work from each of
these fields). Yet, consumer research has not given consid-
erable focused attention to authenticity, and the fact that
authenticity is still “not well understood in its market man-
ifestations” (Pen˜aloza 2000, p. 103) suggests that consumer
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 297
researchers have an opportunity to enhance our understand-
ing of this important cultural concept and to contribute to
an active and ongoing research effort in the social sciences.
This is not to say that consumer researchers have com-
pletely ignored authenticity. A few articles in consumer re-
search have focused explicitly on authenticity, and several
consumer researchers have discussed authenticity’s mar-
ketplace manifestations. For instance, consumer-research
studies have shown that consumers seek authenticity in mu-
seum souvenirs (Costa and Bamossy 1995), experiences in
foreign cultures (Thompson and Tambyah 1999), brands
(Holt 2002), props from favorite television shows (Kozinets
2001), personal possessions (Grayson and Shulman 2000),
reproductions of period artifacts (Belk and Costa 1998),
consumption communities (Kozinets 2002), and retail set-
tings (Pen˜aloza 2001; Wallendorf, Lindsey-Mullikin, and
Pimentel 1998). However, although many of these studies
have noted that commercialization can undermine authen-
ticity (Costa and Bamossy 1995; Holt 2002; Kozinets 2002;
Thompson and Tambyah 1999) and that the assessment of
authenticity involves a complex perceptual process (Belk
and Costa 1998; Pen˜aloza 2001), few have responded to
Stern’s (1994) call for a closer look at the attributes that
influence this process. Furthermore, despite their frequent
use of the term “authentic,” few consumer researchers have
explicitly defined it, and this has allowed the term to be
used in different ways to imply different meanings. To ad-
dress this problem, we specify and identify two types of
authenticity. Although the distinction we make has been
described in previously published work on authenticity (e.g.,
Bruner 1994; Evans-Pritchard 1987; MacCannell 1999; Pe-
terson 1997), we codify this distinction based on concepts
from Charles Peirce’s (Peirce 1998) philosophy of signs.
We also test the usefulness of this distinction using percep-
tual data collected at two tourist attractions. Our resultsshow
that consumers rely on different cues to assess different
kinds of authenticity and that different cues for authenticity
can differentially influence some of the benefits that au-
thenticity produces.
REFINING THE CONCEPT OF AN
AUTHENTIC MARKET OFFERING
The word “authentic” is associated with “genuineness,”
“reality,” and “truth” (Bendix 1992, p. 104; Costa and Ba-
mossy 1995, p. 300; Goldman and Papson 1996, p. 142;
Kennick 1985, p. 4; Peterson 1997, p. 209; Phillips 1997,
p. 5; see Webster’s New World Dictionary of AmericanEng-
lish, 3d ed., s.v., “authentic”). Yet, the words “genuine” and
“true” can mean different things to different consumers in
different contexts. To one consumer, a Native American
necklace is genuine only if it is made by a Native American
craftsperson, while, to another consumer, the necklace must
have particular colors and designs, regardless of who made
it (Evans-Pritchard 1987). To one consumer, a meal is truly
Mexican only if it is made in Mexico and consumed by
Mexicans, while, to another consumer, the meal mustreflect
certain recipes, regardless of who eats or makes the food
(Salamone 1997). In this section, we show that the word
“authentic” has often been used to denote one of two mean-
ings, both of which are associated with genuineness and
truth but in different ways. To ground these two meanings
theoretically in relation to consumer perceptions of market
offerings, we draw from the philosophy of Peirce (Peirce
1998), whose writings have been particularly influential in
the field of semiotics (Mick 1986). Peirce wrote at length
about human perception and epistemology, and he placed
considerable focus on how people discern what is real or
truthful and what is not (Merrell 2000). His ideas therefore
provide a useful foundation for exploring and understanding
how consumers evaluate indicators of authenticity. One hall-
mark of Peirce’s work is his link between certain types of
cues (or “signs”) and certain kinds of phenomenological
experiences (Grayson and Shulman 2000). Below we spec-
ify how different cues and their associated phenomenolog-
ical experiences can contribute in different ways to assess-
ments of authentic market offerings.
In this article, we use the term “market offering” to refer
broadly to any product, service, or marketplace experience
evaluated by a consumer. In contrast, some consumer re-
searchers have studied authenticity in relation to how con-
sumers feel about themselves, that is, whether they believe
they are revealing their true selves (Arnould and Price 2000;
Schouten and McAlexander 1995). As Trilling (1972) ex-
plains, evaluating whether one’s self is authentic is quali-
tatively different from evaluating whether something else is
authentic (see also Daniel 1996). Because our purpose is to
examine consumer evaluations of market offerings, we focus
on only the latter.
Indexical Authenticity
The word “authentic” is sometimes used to describe some-
thing that is thought not to be a copy or an imitation (Bruner
1994, p. 400; Huntington 1988, p. 157). In this sense, an
object is authentic when it is believed to be “the original”
or “the real thing” (Barthel 1996, p. 8; Benjamin 1969, p.
220; Cohen 1989, p. 40; Culler 1981, p. 132; Eco 1990, p.
193; MacCannell 1999, p. 14; Orvell 1989; Peterson 1997,
p. 207; Sagoff 1978, p. 453). For example, Jimmy Stewart’s
handprints in the concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in
Los Angles are authentic if they are perceived to be original,
real handprints left by the actor (O’Guinn 1991). In a similar
sense, a person’s actions or expressions are authentic if they
are thought clearly to reflect who the person really is (Cur-
nutt 1999–2000; Goldman and Papson 1996; Phillips 1997;
Trilling 1972; Upton 1996; Weinberg 1996) and are not “put
on” or imitated merely to meet social conventions or make
money (Cohen 1988; Gair 1997; Holt 2002; Kingston 1999;
Martin 1993; Thompson and Tambyah 1999; Trilling 1972).
For example, the self-assured behavior of a river-rafting
guide is authentic if it is perceived to be a reflection of the
guide’s actual confidence in leading the trip, and not a
feigned impersonation of confidence (Arnould, Price, and
Tierney 1998).
298 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
Peirce coined the term “index” to refer to cues that, like
the handprints and the guide’s behavior, are thought to have
a factual and spatio-temporal link with something else.In the
case of authentic market offerings, this link can be physical
(as with the link between an actor and his handprints) or
psychic (as with the link between a guide and his behavior;
Markel 1995). Indexicality distinguishes “the real thing” from
its copies (Benjamin 1969; Goodman 1976; Kingston 1999).
Even if two things appear exactly alike, the authentic object
is the one that is believed to have particularly valued or im-
portant physical encounters with the world. Similarly, even
if two social actors behave in similar ways, the authentic set
of behaviors are those that are believed to reflect the actor’s
true self, not simulated to achieve a particular effect. Indices,
according to Peirce, are associated with thephenomenological
experience of fact (CP 1.419).
1
To view something as an
index, the perceiver must believe that it actually has thefactual
and spatio-temporal link that is claimed. For example, to judge
whether a chair is an indexically authentic Victorian chair, a
consumer must have some verification (e.g., via certification
or a trustworthy context) that it was indeed made during the
Victorian Era. And, to determine whether a cultural dance
performance is indexically authentic, a consumer must have
some confidence (e.g., via additional information about the
performers or cues offered during the performance) that the
dancers are being true to their selves and/or cultural identity
and not simply going through motions that are unrelated to
their personality or heritage.
Iconic Authenticity
Alternatively, the word “authentic” is sometimes used to
describe something whose physical manifestation resembles
something that is indexically authentic.
2
Authors sometimes
distinguish this sense of authenticity from indexical au-
thenticity by using phrases such as “authentic reproduction”
or “authentic recreation” (Bruner 1994, p. 399; Crang 1996,
pp. 421–22; Peterson 1997, p. 208). For example, silver
pieces in a museum gift shop are authentic (or authentic
reproductions) if they are thought to look very similar to
coins made in the sixteenth-century Spanish colonies (Costa
and Bamossy 1995). And, a participant at a mountain-man
rendezvous is authentic (or is creating an authentic reen-
actment) to the extent that his actions and speech are be-
lieved to mimic the behavior of someone attending a real
rendezvous in the nineteenth century (Belk and Costa 1998).
Although previous consumer research has used the term
“verisimilitude” to describe this kind of similarity (Deigh-
ton, Romer, and McQueen 1989; Kozinets et al. 2002), we
use Peirce’s more general term “iconicity.” An icon is some-
thing that, like the coin and the rendezvous participant, is
1
In referencing Peirce, we use shorthand that is conventional in Peirce
scholarship: “CP” indicates the Hartshorne and Weiss collection ofPeirce’s
papers (Peirce 1998). The subsequent number (e.g., 5.45) refers to the
referenced volume and paragraph number.
2
See Barthel 1996; Cohen 1993; DeLyser 1999; Handler and Saxton
1988; Jacknis 1990; Lu and Fine 1995; Stern 1994; Walsh 2001. We thank
an anonymous reviewer for assisting us in clarifying this definition.
perceived as being similar to something else. Icons, ac-
cording to Peirce, are associated with the phenomenological
experience of attending to one’s senses (CP 1.304–07). A
consumer’s sensory experience of the coins and the moun-
tain man are the basis for determining whether they are
iconically authentic (for a similar point, see Eco [1990]).
Peirce explained that, to view something as an icon, per-
ceivers must have some preexisting knowledge or expec-
tations, which create a “composite photograph” (CP 2.435)
in their minds. The perceivers compare this composite pho-
tograph with what they sense and make an assessment of
similarity. For instance, to judge whether a reproduction of
a Victorian chair is iconically authentic, a consumer must
have some idea, however sketchy or detailed, of how Vic-
torian chairs tend to look and feel. And to assess whether
a cultural dance performance is iconically authentic, a con-
sumer must have some sense—again, however sketchy or
detailed—of how dances from this culture tend to look and
sound.
Discussion
Having distinguished between indexical and iconic au-
thenticity, we further clarify these concepts by discussing
three important issues in relation to both types. First, al-
though some researchers (e.g., Westbrook 1978) have used
the word “authentic” as a synonym for “true,” our concep-
tualization associates authenticity with only particular kinds
of truth. For example, a consumer’s evaluation of the au-
thenticity of a French restaurant menu will not necessarily
hinge on whether the menu presents truthful information. If
the menu offers a “kids meal” that includes hamburgers,
and if the restaurant does serve hamburgers, this truth would
not make the menu authentic. Questions of truth and de-
ception are important to consumer behavior research (e.g.,
Stern 1992), but not all of these questions are relevant to
the study of authenticity.
Second, iconic and indexical authenticity are not mutually
exclusive. Although perception can sometimes emphasize
iconicity more than indexicality and vice versa (CP 2.276),
every perceived cue has iconic and indexical properties (CP
2.306). Thus, some things can be viewed as being both
iconically and indexically authentic. For example, a con-
sumer may believe not only that a chair was built during
the Victorian era (indexical authenticity) but also that it is
illustrative of Victorian style (iconic authenticity).However,
iconic and indexical authenticity are conceptually andprac-
tically distinct. For example, the original U.S. Declaration
of Independence was poorly preserved for many years and,
as a result, has faded considerably. Thus, an 1823engraving
of the original Declaration is the version most commonly
reproduced in books, because the engraving was much better
preserved than the original and is therefore thought to be a
better representation of what the Declaration looked like when
it was first signed. From this perspective, the original Dec-
laration is indexically authentic (because it was actually
signed by 56 Continental Congress delegates in 1776) but not
iconically authentic (because it no longer looks like the orig-
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 299
inal when it was signed). In contrast, the engraving is per-
ceived as iconically authentic but not indexically authentic.
Finally, most scholars who study authenticity agree that
authenticity is not an attribute inherent in an object and is
better understood as an assessment made by a particular
evaluator in a particular context (Bruner 1994; Cohen 1988;
DeLyser 1999; Haslam 1985). This perspective is consonant
with Peirce’s view that signs are better conceptualized as
personal experiences rather than objective realities (Merrell
1995). Despite our belief that we perceive iconic or indexical
signs “out there” in the “real world,” our perception of these
signs are highly influenced by our personal predilections
and perceptual imperfections (CP 7.465). Thus, there are no
purely objective criteria for deciding whether a market of-
fering is indexically or iconically authentic (Phillips 1997).
All market offerings have indexical and iconic properties,
but not all will be judged as authentic by a particular con-
sumer. For example, to a Revolutionary War buff, the 1823
engraving of the Declaration of Independence may lack in-
dexical authenticity because it was not signed by John Han-
cock, but, to a printing enthusiast, the engraving may be
indexically authentic because it was printed by the engraver
William J. Stone (cf. Barthel 1996; Howard 1992). Fur-
thermore, perceptions of iconicity and indexicality are
graded, not binary; consumers can perceive market offerings
as being more or less iconic or indexical. For example, a
fan may view a photograph signed by a favorite actress as
being less indexical than a photo that was personally handed
to the fan by the actress (Grayson and Shulman 2000).
The research we describe in this article uses the above
conceptual distinctions to make three related contributions.
First, we empirically identify the two types of authenticity.
Second, we show a link between the different kinds of cues
(iconic and indexical) and authenticity. Third, we show that
different kinds of cues lead to different kinds of consumer
benefits.
RESEARCH SITES
For this research, we collected data from visitors at two
tourist attractions: the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Shake-
speare’s Birthplace. Both of these sites are commonly men-
tioned as notable English attractions, both are associated with
a well-known character, and both are presented as recreations
of the character’s household environment. Thus, we antici-
pated that consumers visiting the sites would be interested in
genuine links with the character and/or his time period. By
collecting data at two similar sites, we provide a modest test
of the external validity of any significant findings.
Of course, our two research sites differ in at least one
important way: Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character
who, according to the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, lived
at the turn of the twentieth century. In contrast, William
Shakespeare was a real person who, according to history
books, lived at the turn of the seventeenth century. Because
fiction is often considered to be less factual than history
(Hodge and Kress 1995), one might expect that at least some
perceptions of iconic and indexical authenticity would be
weaker at the Sherlock Holmes Museum than at Shake-
speare’s Birthplace, and that this might in turn affect some
of the benefits of authenticity. However, consumer research-
ers who have studied authenticity have noted that percep-
tions of authenticity are not limited to market offerings that
are historically or factually true (Kozinets 2001). For in-
stance, in their study of the “mountain man” rendezvous,
Belk and Costa note that, although certain kinds of clothing
and equipment at these events would not have been found
at the original mountain man gatherings, “participants join
in what might be thought of as the social construction of
unreality,” where their imaginings about the past create a
“fabricated authenticity” that participants accept as real
(1998, pp. 232, 236). If authenticity is socially constructed
by consumers, then it is possible that the fact-fiction dis-
tinction between Shakespeare and Holmes will not moderate
the relative influence of iconic and indexical cues at each
site. Consumers may perceive things associated with Holmes
as being just as authentic as things associated with Shake-
speare, and this perception of authenticity may therefore
result in similar benefits. Whether or not this is the case is
an empirical question.
EXPLORATORY PRETEST
Rather than assuming that our conceptualization is ap-
propriate for understanding and measuring perceptions of
authenticity at our two research sites, we used open-ended
interview questions to hear, in consumers’ own words, how
they experienced the sites. Is authenticity a salient issue for
these consumers? If it is, do consumers rely on indexical
and iconic cues for assessing authenticity? A second pretest
goal was to provide a basis for developing site-specific sur-
vey questions about indexicality and iconicity. Although
Grayson and Shulman (2000) identified two types of in-
dexicality for personal possessions (indexicality with a per-
son and indexicality with a time), we wanted to determine
whether these types were also applicable to our research
contexts. Furthermore, iconic authenticity has not previously
been systematically analyzed, so we wanted to explore
whether consumers perceive different kinds and, if so, what
these kinds are.
We interviewed 47 consumers (21 at the Sherlock Holmes
Museum and 26 at Shakespeare’s Birthplace) who ranged
in age from 16 to 68 years of age. The sample was 51%
female and was comprised of consumers representing 18
different countries. We conducted the interviews near each
site’s exit and paid volunteers a nominal fee. During the
interviews, we first inquired about which site features in-
formants liked or disliked, and why. We then asked about
which features they thought were authentic or inauthentic,
and why.
When asked in the first portion of the interview about
site likes or dislikes, all but one informant volunteered issues
relating to authenticity. This substantiated our expectation
that consumers at these two sites consider authenticity dur-
ing their visit and that the sites are therefore appropriate
venues for our research. During the interviews, informants
300 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
TABLE 1
EXAMPLES OF INFORMANT DESCRIPTIONS OF INDEXICAL AND ICONIC AUTHENTICITY
Construct label Description Example quotations from Shake-
speare’s Birthplace interviews Example quotations from Sher-
lock Holmes Museum interviews
Iconicity with fiction Something that looks like a com-
posite picture, which was con-
structed based on the con-
sumer’s exposure to fictional
narratives.
The house is authentic, espe-
cially if you look at it “with the
film [Shakespeare in Love]in
mind” (F, 28, Zimbabwe).
The layout of the apartment is
authentic because it “is similar
to what you’ve read,” and
there is even “the right number
of steps” up to the first floor
(M, 30, U.S.).
Iconicity with old things Something that looks like a com-
posite picture, which was con-
structed based on the con-
sumer’s exposure to how
things age.
The beams are authentic be-
cause they “looked pretty
weathered” (M, 31, U.S.).
The furniture is authentic be-
cause it “looks like it’s been
well worn” (M, 28, India).
Iconicity with history Something that looks like a com-
posite picture, which was con-
structed based on the con-
sumer’s exposure to
information about historical
fact.
The structure of the house is au-
thentic because it looks just
like “stuff you read and pic-
tures you’ve seen” of homes
from that time period (M, 32,
England).
The interior decoration is authen-
tic because “I have read a lot
of books of that time,” and it
looks “just as it should” (M, 16,
Argentina).
Actual indexicality with inhabitant Something that is believed to
have been spatio-temporally
linked with Holmes or
Shakespeare.
The house is authentic because
“I just like knowing that
[Shakespeare’s] been here” (F,
16, Australia).
The window is authentic “I know
that [Holmes] was usually
standing at the window and lis-
tening to others . . . when he
was thinking” (M, 43, U.S.).
Hypothetical indexicality with
inhabitant Something that was regarded as
if it had been spatio-temporally
linked with Holmes or
Shakespeare.
No informant descriptions fit this
category. Items on desk are authentic be-
cause “When I saw some
books, old newspapers, I just,
you have a feeling as if
[Holmes] really touched every-
thing” (F, 35, Russia).
Actual indexicality with inhabi-
tant’s era Something that is believed to
have been spatio-temporally
linked with Holmes’s or Shake-
speare’s era.
Kitchen utensils are authentic be-
cause “it’s actually the same
utensils used back then. They
found them here and they’re
really old” (F, 61, Australia).
Antiques are authentic because
they are “actual things from
that era” (M, 17, U.S.).
N
OTE
.—Gender, age, and nationality are indicated in parentheses after each quotation.
described a range of indexical and iconic cues in association
with authenticity. Some illustrative quotations are listed in
table 1, and, in the following two sections, we briefly sum-
marize the interview findings.
Informant Descriptions of Indexicality
When describing authentic site features, informants men-
tioned three kinds of indexicality. First, authentic site fea-
tures were often believed to be really from the time of
Shakespeare or Holmes. We refer to this as “actual index-
icality with inhabitant’s era.” Second, at Shakespeare’s
Birthplace, authentic site features were often described as
having been spatio-temporally linked with Shakespeare.We
refer to this as “actual indexicality with inhabitant.” Inter-
estingly, despite the fictional status of Holmes, informants
at the Sherlock Holmes Museum nonetheless also mentioned
indexical associations with the inhabitant. However, when
describing these associations, they frequently signaled
Holmes’s fictional status by using language such as “as if”
or “theoretically,” which distanced their statements from
indicating actual fact (Hodge and Tripp 1986). For example,
when identifying authentic site aspects, one informant (F,
49, Canada) mentioned “things that Sherlock Holmes might
have used to solve the crimes,” and another informant (M,
18, U.S.) liked “just the subtle reminders that [Holmes] had
theoretically been there” (our emphasis). These informants
recognized that Holmes is merely fictional. However, when
visiting the site, they allowed themselves to think as if he
could have touched certain site features or could have been
physically near them. We refer to this as “hypothetical in-
dexicality with inhabitant.”
In transcripts from the Sherlock Holmes Museum inter-
views, we found no evidence that any informants believed
that Holmes actually existed. Yet, when some of them de-
scribed indexicality with Holmes, they were not always care-
ful to indicate this fictionality in their language. For example
one informant (M, 43, U.S.), who mentioned at the start of
the interview that “I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes
great stuff,” also mentioned that he enjoyed “seeing
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 301
FIGURE 1
DIAGRAM OF ASSOCIATIONS PROPOSED IN HYPOTHESES
1–5
[Holmes’s] living quarters, and where he sat, did his writings
and thinking” (our emphasis). Despite his awareness that
Sherlock Holmes is fictional, this informant (and others)
sometimes still referred to Holmes as having actually owned
the items on display and having lived in the space now
occupied by the museum. This way of referring to fiction
is not uncommon (Walton 1978), but it suggests that people
can sometimes, even if temporarily, take the perspective that
a fictional world is an actual one.
Informant Descriptions of Iconicity
In the context of assessments of authenticity, iconicity is
the use of a mental template or “composite picture” to assess
whether something’s physical manifestation is similar to
something that is indexically authentic. At our two research
sites, the templates that informants used to assess authen-
ticity came in three forms. Informants compared what they
saw at the site with (a) what they knew from history and
what they therefore thought was fact (“iconicity with his-
tory”), (b) what they knew from fictional narratives about
the inhabitant or his era (“iconicity with fiction”), and/or
(c) what they knew about how things from the 1500s or the
1800s tend to age (“iconicity with old things”).
At first glance, an informant’s belief that something looks
old might indicate a perception of indexicality rather than
iconicity (Lowenthal 1985). However, informants often ex-
plicitly recognized that age can be faked. For example, one
informant (F, 28, South Africa) at Shakespeare’s Birthplace
mentioned that the linen displayed in the house was inauth-
entic because “I know they wanted to show what the original
painted linen was, but that was really too new. They could
have actually washed it out a bit. So it looked more old.” At
the Sherlock Holmes Museum, another informant (M, 61,
Australia) mentioned a piece of clothing hanging on the wall
as being authentic because “it looked old” and then went on
to comment that “whether it was a reproduction, or old, I
don’t know, but it certainly looked old. I mean, I couldn’t
say whether things are old, or whether they arereproductions,
but everything looked right.” This recognition that age can
be faked highlights why we categorize this perception asbeing
iconic. Informants realized that just because something looks
old does not mean that it is indexical with a previous era.
In sum, our exploratory pretest indicated that authenticity
is indeed a salient issue for consumers at the two sites. It
also suggested that perceptions of iconicity and indexicality
contribute to perceptions of authenticity. Finally, it helped
us to identify a range of indexical and iconic cues that
consumers use to assess authenticity at the two sites and,
therefore, to develop survey questions that cover this range.
HYPOTHESES: THE EFFECTS OF
PERCEIVED ICONICITY AND
INDEXICALITY
The pretest results gave us some familiarity with how
consumers evaluate authenticity at each of the two sites.
They also provided us with a foundation for stating the
propositions inherent in our framework as formal hypoth-
eses, and for developing additional hypotheses. (An illus-
tration of our hypotheses is presented in fig. 1.) First, the
basic premise of our framework is that perceptions of icon-
icity and indexicality each contribute to assessments of au-
thenticity. To test this basic assumption, we propose the
following two hypotheses:
H1: The more a site feature is perceived as being (a)
iconic with fictional accounts of the site inhabitant
or his era, (b) iconic with old things, or (c) iconic
with historical accounts of the site inhabitant or
his era, the more the site feature will be assessed
as authentic.
H2: The more a site feature is perceived as being (a)
actually indexical with the site inhabitant, (b) hy-
pothetically indexical with the site inhabitant, or
(c) actually indexical with the inhabitant’s era, the
more the site feature will be assessed as authentic.
302 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
A Different Effect on Assessments of Authenticity
Although iconic and indexical cues may both encourage
a consumer to believe that a market offering is authentic
(hypotheses 1 and 2), it is possible that one type of cue has
a stronger influence on assessments of authenticity. For ex-
ample, at the U.S. National Archives, the two Declarations
of Independence mentioned earlier may both be viewed as
authentic, but consumers may view one as being more au-
thentic than the other. To develop a tentative answer, we
turn to Peirce’s framework, which associates indexicalcues
with the phenomenological experience of fact and iconic
cues with the phenomenological experience of attending to
one’s senses. Because authenticity is associated with fact
and truthfulness, we argue that it will be more strongly
associated with indexicality than with iconicity. Certainly,
an iconically authentic market offering is “true” in the sense
that its perceived physical qualities are believed to truly
resemble an indexical market offering. But, as Peirce ex-
plains, “The Icon has no dynamical connection with the
object it represents; it simply happens that its qualities re-
semble those of that object, and excite analogous sensations
in the mind for which it is a likeness. But it really stands
unconnected with them. The Index is physically connected
with its object; they make an organic pair, but the inter-
preting mind has nothing to do with this connection” (CP
2.299). This stronger connection could explain why con-
sumers sometimes value indexical possessions more
strongly than possessions that are merely copies (icons) of
the original (Grayson and Shulman 2000). We therefore pro-
pose the following hypothesis:
H3: As compared with iconic cues, indexical cues will
more strongly influence assessments of authenti-
city.
A Different Effect on the Benefits of Authenticity
Based on our conceptual framework and exploratory pre-
test, we have hypothesized that indexical and iconic cues
both contribute to assessments of authenticity. However, our
framework also implies that each type of cue contributes
different types of authenticity to the assessment. To examine
further the potential differential influence of indexical and
iconic cues, we hypothesize that each type of cue has a
different influence on some of the benefits that consumers
experience from the consumption of authenticity. According
to many consumer researchers, one of authenticity’s benefits
is that it provides an escape from the phoniness that underlies
most of today’s marketing practices (Costa 1998; Holt 2002;
Thompson and Tambyah 1999). Some researchers have ob-
served that this escape is particularly important to consumers
in a postmodern age, where the very concept of a reliable
truth is being questioned (Cohen 1988, p. 373). “Left with
a past so shorn of credibility,” says Lowenthal (1992, p.
188), “we crave at least a residual authenticity . . . [and]
hunger for firm truths.” In Belk’s (1990, p. 671) words, “it
is the very shallowness and artificiality of our lives that
causes us to seek the authentic.” Authentic things therefore
provide consumers with a sense of hard evidence and un-
equivocal verification. For example, in O’Guinn’s (1991, p.
108) study of Barry Manilow fans, an object touched by
the singer is valued because “it somehow proves that Barry
exists for them.” Objects like these give consumers “factual
certainty” (Grayson and Shulman 2000, p. 28) and “a tan-
gible form of evidence” (Barthel 1996, p. 3). We refer to
this benefit as “perceived evidence.”
A second potential benefit of authenticity has beeniden-
tified in studies outside of consumer research. A number
of researchers have suggested that, when consumers be-
lieve they are in the presence of something authentic, they
can feel transported to the context to which the object or
location is authentically linked, and thus they feel more
connected with the context. Although this context could
be the future (as with Disney’s “Tomorrowland”), most
research on authenticity has addressed links to the near or
distant past. For example, Weiner (1992, p. 9) notes that
authentic possessions help to “reproduce the past for the
future,” and Barthel (1996, p. 119) observes that an au-
thentic building or object can provide “a direct link be-
tween contemporary viewer and historical period, above
and apart from the interpretive surround.” Historical sites
and tourist attractions sometimes market this direct con-
nection as an opportunity to “travel back into the past”
(Walsh 2001, p. 101) and to participate in “time travel”
(Crang 1996, p. 422). When evaluating a market offering
that they perceive as authentic, consumers believe they can
feel “what it felt like to live back then” (Handler and
Saxton 1988, p. 245), can “‘see’ the imagined past”
(DeLyser 1999, p. 618), and can experience the “past
brought to life” (Phillips 1997, p. 197). We refer to this
benefit as a “perceived connection with the past.”
We hypothesize that these two benefits of authenticity
are differentially influenced by iconic and indexical cues.
Again recalling Peirce’s claim that indexicality is strongly
associated with the phenomenological experience of fact,
we argue that indexical authenticity is more likely to foster
the first benefit we described above—perceived evidence,
which involves a sense of proof and verification. In con-
trast, because iconicity is strongly associated with the phe-
nomenological experience of attending to one’s senses, we
argue that iconic authenticity is more likely to foster the
second benefit—a perceived connection with the past,
which involves a feeling of being transported back into
time.
H4: Iconic cues will be more strongly associated with
a perceived connection with the past than with
perceived evidence.
H5: Indexical cues will be more strongly associated
with perceived evidence than with perceived con-
nection with the past.
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 303
TABLE 2
RESPONDENT DEMOGRAPHICS, PHASE 2
Age Percent reporting
this age Occupation Percent reporting
this occupation Level of education Percent reporting
this education
11–20 15 Student 21 Primary school 4
21–30 31 Service 13 Secondary school 31
31–40 22 Manager/executive 39 College/university 45
41–50 18 Professional service 3 Graduate 20
51–60 8 Blue collar/clerical 16
61–70 5 Homemaker 3
71–81 1 Retired/unemployed 6
MAIN STUDY
Data Collection Instrument
For our main study, we collected data via pen-and-paper
surveys administered to volunteers as they exited the site.
On page 1 of the survey, roughly half of our respondents
were asked to identify up to four authentic site features,
while the other half were asked to list up to four inauthentic
features. (Based on our pretest, we felt comfortable assum-
ing that most visitors experienced both authentic and in-
authentic site features. However, nine respondents at the
Sherlock Holmes Museum could not think of an inauthentic
site feature and were therefore allowed to list authentic fea-
tures instead.) All respondents were then asked to choose
one feature from their list and to answer a series of survey
questions about it, after which they were paid a nominal
fee.
To develop the survey questions, we wrote three items to
measure each of our research constructs. We then pretested
the survey verbally with consumers at the Sherlock Holmes
Museum. After making adjustments based on consumer
comments, we pretested written survey questions on a total
of 77 respondents from both sites and used exploratory fac-
tor analysis with varimax rotation to identify additional ad-
justments for improving construct validity. Six questions
were rewritten because they did not load sufficiently on their
intended factors. The final survey questions (including a
description of the scales used) are reported in the appendix.
Respondent Sample
At Shakespeare’s Birthplace, 56 respondents rated an in-
authentic site aspect, and 58 rated an authentic site aspect;
at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, 42 respondents rated an
inauthentic site aspect, and 62 rated an authentic site aspect
( ). Respondents were also asked to rate Holmes orNp218
Shakespeare on a scale ranging from 1 (definitely a fictional
character) to 7 (definitely a true historical person). All but
one Holmes Museum respondent (who was removed from
the analysis) gave a rating below the midpoint (mean 2.3),
and all Shakespeare’s Birthplace respondents gave a rating
above the midpoint (mean 6.7). The resulting sample was
54% female and represented 21 different countries. Addi-
tional information about respondent demographics is re-
ported in table 2. All demographics, including nationality,
were included as covariates in our analyses.
Measurement
Before testing hypotheses, we tested our construct mea-
sures for convergent and discriminant validity. A confirm-
atory factor analysis (LISREL 8.30) produced acceptable fit
statistics
2
(x(df p221) p370, pp.0, RMSEA p
, and all survey items0.054, CFI p0.97, GFI p0.88)
loaded significantly on their intended latent construct (with
the lowest t-value being 14.4). Cronbach’s alphas for each
scale are reported in the appendix and were all greater than
.80. To assess discriminant validity further, we modeled the
constructs in pairs and compared the chi-square statistic
when the correlation between constructs (i.e., F) was free
versus constrained to one (Gerbing and Anderson 1988).
For all 28 pairs, there was a statistically significantincrease
in chi-square ( ) when the correlation was con-p!.001
strained. These analyses point to acceptable convergent and
discriminant validity. We therefore analyzed the average of
the three items for each construct (and, to create consistency
among the measures, used a linear transformationto convert
answers to the five-point scales into answers on a seven-
point scale).
Hypothesis Testing
Hypotheses 1 and 2 predicted that, as compared with
inauthentic site features, authentic site features would be
rated more highly in terms of iconicity and indexicality. To
compare the ratings of authentic and inauthentic site fea-
tures, we used an ANOVA that controlled for site (Holmes
vs. Shakespeare) and included an interaction term to control
for the possibility that effects may differ between sites (see
table 3 for ANOVA F-values). For each pair of means re-
ported in table 4, the rating for the authentic site feature is
significantly larger ( ) than the rating for the inauth-p!.05
entic site feature. The ANOVA contrasts on the three sig-
nificant interaction terms show that, in each case, the dif-
ference between authentic and inauthentic site features was
greater at one site versus the other but that this difference
was significant at both sites. Hypotheses 1 and 2 are there-
304 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
TABLE 3
ANOVA F-VALUES: THE EFFECT OF SITE AND TYPE OF SITE FEATURE ON RATINGS OF ICONICITY AND INDEXICALITY
Type of site feature (authentic
vs. inauthentic) Site (Holmes
vs. Shakespeare) Type of site
feature #site
Iconicity with fiction 74.20*4.15*.00
Iconicity with old things 528.92*1.34 22.62*
Iconicity with history 80.85*5.72*.05
Actual indexicality with inhabitant 153.76*.44 7.17*
Hypothetical indexicality with inhabitant 358.56*10.33*.03
Actual indexicality with inhabitant’s era 250.73*.23 6.23*
N
OTE
.—The ANOVA included the covariates of respondent gender, age, education, and nationality,but these F-values are not reported above.
*.p!.05
fore supported at both sites for all measures of iconicity and
indexicality.
Hypothesis 3 predicted that, as compared with iconic cues,
indexical cues will more strongly influence assessments of
authenticity. To test this, we calculated the extent to which
authentic and inauthentic site features differed on their rat-
ings of iconicity and indexicality. For each cue, we calcu-
lated a “difference score” (the difference between the ratings
for authentic and inauthentic site features; see fig. 2) and
used MANOVA contrasts to compare the scores. At both
sites, the scores for all indexicality ratings were numerically
greater than the scores for iconicity with fiction and iconicity
with history (although, at the Sherlock Holmes Museum,
actual indexicality with a person was not statistically
greater). In contrast, at both sites, the difference score for
iconicity with old things was statistically equal to or greater
than the difference score for the indexicality ratings. Hy-
pothesis 3 is therefore not supported for iconicity with old
things.
To test hypotheses 4 and 5, we used a mean split to divide
the iconicity and indexicality ratings into two categories
(low vs. high; Tybout 2001) and, thus, grouped sitefeatures
by whether they exhibited high or low iconicity and high
or low indexicality. We again controlled for site and included
an interaction term to control for the possibility that the
effects may differ between sites. We then used ANOVA to
model iconicity and indexicality as predictors of the two
benefits of authenticity (see F-values in table 5). Hypothesis
4 predicted that iconic cues will have a stronger influence
on perceived connection with the past than on perceived
evidence. At both sites, there was a significant main effect
for iconicity with fiction as a predictor of perceived con-
nection with the past, and no significant effect asa predictor
of perceived evidence, which supports hypothesis 4. At both
sites, there was a significant main effect for iconicity with
old things as a predictor of both benefits of authenticity, but
MANOVA contrasts indicate that this effect was larger for
perceived connection with the past than for perceived evi-
dence, which also supports hypothesis 4. Finally, the sig-
nificant interaction term for iconicity with history as a pre-
dictor of perceived connection with the past indicates that
this association was statistically significant for Sherlock
Holmes Museum respondents but not for Shakespeare’s
Birthplace respondents, so hypothesis 4 was supported for
this type of iconicity only at the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
All iconicity effects are illustrated in figure 3. Hypothesis
4 predicted that iconicity would more strongly influence
perceived connection with the past than perceived evidence.
Thus, the slopes of the lines in graphs B and D (which plot
the means for perceived connection with the past) should
be steeper than those in graphs A and C (which plot the
means for perceived evidence). In all but one instance (icon-
icity with history at Shakespeare’s Birthplace), this is the
case.
Hypothesis 5 predicted that indexical cues will have a
stronger influence on perceived evidence than on perceived
connection with the past. At both sites, there was a signif-
icant main effect for actual indexicality with inhabitant as
a predictor of perceived evidence and no significant effect
for perceived connection with the past, which supports hy-
pothesis 5. At both sites, there was a significant main effect
for hypothetical indexicality with inhabitant as a predictor
of both benefits of authenticity, but MANOVA contrasts
indicate that this effect was larger for perceived evidence
than for perceived connection with the past, which alsosup-
ports hypothesis 5. (The significant interaction term indi-
cates that this significant difference in effects was larger at
Shakespeare’s Birthplace, but the hypothesis is supported at
both sites.) Finally, there was no significant association be-
tween actual indexicality with inhabitant’s era and either
benefit of authenticity, which does not support hypothesis
5. All indexicality effects are illustrated in figure 4. Hy-
pothesis 5 predicted that indexicality would more strongly
influence perceived evidence than perceived connection.
Thus, the slopes of the lines in graphs A and C (which plot
the means for perceived evidence) should be steeper than
those in graphs B and D (which plot the means for perceived
connection with the past). In four out of six instances (i.e.,
not indexicality with era), this is the case.
DISCUSSION
Consumer researchers have frequently commented on the
allure of authentic market offerings, and our study contrib-
utes to an understanding of these market offerings by (a)
showing that authenticity can come in qualitatively different
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 305
TABLE 4
RATINGS OF ICONICITY AND INDEXICALITY: INAUTHENTIC VERSUS AUTHENTIC SITE FEATURES
Shakespeare’s Birthplace Sherlock Holmes Museum
Mean rating, inauthen-
tic site feature Mean rating, authentic
site feature Mean rating, inauthen-
tic site feature Mean rating, authentic
site feature
Iconicity with fiction 3.77 5.48 4.27 6.08
Iconicity with old things 1.76 5.72 2.64 5.23
Iconicity with history 4.27 5.89 3.81 5.44
Actual indexicality with person 2.55 4.59 1.83 4.97
Hypothetical indexicality with
person 2.54 5.52 1.96 4.90
Actual indexicality with era 2.82 5.31 2.26 5.66
N
OTE
.—At each site, the mean rating for the inauthentic site feature is significantly different ( ) from the corresponding ratingfor the authenticsite feature.p!.05
forms, (b) pinpointing the cues that consumers use to eval-
uate different kinds of authenticity, and (c) making progress
toward understanding the differential influence of these cues.
More specifically, we support the importance of both iconic
and indexical cues in the evaluation of authenticity (hy-
potheses 1 and 2). Although we are not the first to observe
that assessments of authenticity are influenced by how some-
thing looks in relation to a template, or by perceived links
with a time, person, or place, our research emphasizes the
importance of clearly indicating which authenticity consum-
ers are evaluating and demanding.
We also make a contribution by explicitly comparing and
contrasting the influence of these cues on consumer assess-
ments and benefits. Our hypothesis that indexical cues are
more strongly associated with assessments of authenticity
(hypothesis 3) received mixed support. As hypothesized,
iconicity with fiction and with history did tend to be less
strongly associated with assessments of authenticity than
indexical cues were. However, the association between au-
thenticity and iconicity with old things was often equal to
or greater than the association between authenticity and in-
dexical cues. Why would a site feature’s old appearance
have such a relatively strong association with authenticity?
One explanation comes from Lowenthal (1975, p. 26), who
suggests that, because authentic things are frequently pre-
sented as being old and worn, people have a hard time
granting authenticity to new-looking things, even if they are
in fact old. “Because we feel that old things should look
old,” he explains, “we may forget that they originally looked
new.” DeLyser (1999) saw evidence of this in her research
at the “ghost town” of Bodie, California. Even though Bodie
was well maintained when it was inhabited, it is now kept
in a state of “arrested decay” because visitors believe that,
in its worn and dilapidated condition, it “looks more like it
was ‘back then’” (DeLyser 1999, p. 622). For our respon-
dents, this bias against new-looking things in the assessment
of authenticity may have been strong enough to increase the
influence of iconicity with old things relative to indexical
cues. The influence of signs of age on assessments of au-
thenticity deserves further examination, in part because, in
the broader marketplace, these signs are not found only on
market offerings whose authenticity is related to distant his-
tory. As Lowenthal (1985) notes, even personal possessions
such as clothing acquire signs of wear and tear that make
them iconic with old things. And, some marketers make an
extra effort to create market offerings that exitthe assembly
line (or go to the auction block) already exhibiting simu-
lations of these marks. Yet, in contrast, some markets for
authenticity value pristine and still-packaged items (such as
vintage toys, baseball cards, and comic books), and many
authentic market offerings are not manufactured to look old.
In markets where iconicity with old things is not important,
which cues for authenticity come to the fore? Do indexical
cues become exclusively predominant or do other iconic
cues gain more influence? Future research on assessing au-
thenticity might productively examine potential trade-offs
between indexical and iconic cues.
A second general finding from our study is that, at both
sites, iconic cues were more strongly and consistently as-
sociated with perceived connection with the past (hypothesis
4), while indexical cues were more strongly and consistently
associated with perceived evidence (hypothesis 5). Thissup-
ports Peirce’s conceptualization of the phenomenological
experiences associated with indices and icons. Interestingly,
our results also show that, even if an indexical or iconic cue
contributes to assessments of authenticity, this does not nec-
essarily mean it will also contribute to the benefits of au-
thenticity. Two of the cues we measured (indexicality with
inhabitant’s era at both sites and iconicity with history at
Shakespeare’s Birthplace) had no significant association
with the benefits of authenticity, despite their association
with assessments of authenticity. This suggests that re-
searchers should take care when making observations about
authenticity as a global construct, not only because different
kinds of authenticity can have different effects on consumers
but also because some kinds of authenticity may have no
significant effects. For example, even though a consumer
may view a mountain-man costume as being iconically au-
thentic or a Star Trek prop as being indexically authentic,
this does not necessarily mean the consumer isexperiencing
perceived evidence or a perceived connection with the past.
Future research can and should explore what additional ben-
efits, if any, consumers might experience from their expo-
sure to objects or behaviors that they believe are authentic.
306 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
FIGURE 2
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RATINGS OF AUTHENTIC AND INAUTHENTIC SITE FEATURES
N
OTE
.—Brackets indicate significant differences; they link together bars that are significantly different from one another ( ). Bars adjacent to one anotherp!.05
without brackets indicate that no statistically significant difference was found between them. Bars to the right of any bracket are significantly different frombars to
the left, and vice versa.
Our study also contributes to a growing body of research
that has identified a porous boundary between consumer
fantasy and subjectivity, on one hand, and consumer per-
ceptions of reality and objectivity, on the other. For example,
consumer researchers have described consumption experi-
ences as a “blending [of] fantasy and reality” (Kozinets et
al. 2002, p. 18), the creation of a “fantasy reality” (Belk
and Costa 1998, p. 227), and “a blur of fantasy and reality”
(Pen˜aloza 2001, p. 372). Yet, more work is needed to un-
derstand how consumers allow these usually oppositional
elements to coexist as part of the same experience. One
potential explanation comes from the postmodern concept
of “hyperreality,” which originated with Baudrillard (1983)
and has since been echoed by a number of postmodern
commentators and researchers (e.g., Best and Kellner 1991;
Firat and Venkatesh 1995). According to this view, con-
sumers no longer see fantasy and reality as meaningful cat-
egories because they recognize that all “realities” are sub-
jectively constructed and evaluated. Similarly, because the
distinction between authentic and inauthentic is subjective,
“there is no sense in asking what is the original and what
is the copy” (Venkatesh 1999, p. 157). Our study supports
the perspective that the distinction between the authentic
and the inauthentic can be socially or personally constructed
(see also Belk and Costa [1998] and Kozinets [2001]). For
example, despite the fictional status of Sherlock Holmes
(and his apartment) and the historical status of William
Shakespeare (and his home), our respondents assessed au-
thenticity at both sites in similar ways. Furthermore, some
of the same site features deemed authentic by some re-
spondents were deemed inauthentic by others. Based on
these results, it is easy to deconstruct the distinctions be-
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 307
TABLE 5
THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN ICONICITY/INDEXICALITY AND THE BENEFITS OF AUTHENTICITY (ANOVA F-VALUES)
Perceived
evidence Perceived connection
with the past Hypothesis supported?
Iconicity with fiction .03 4.45*Hypothesis 4 supported at both sites
Iconicity with fiction #site .06 1.52
Iconicity with old things 12.74*69.04*Hypothesis 4 supported at both sites
Iconicity with old things #site .91 .49
Iconicity with history 1.19 2.30 Hypothesis 4 supported only at Sherlock
Holmes Museum
Iconicity with history #site 1.26 3.89*
Actual indexicality with person 14.07*1.16 Hypothesis 5 supported at both sites
Actual indexicality with person #site 1.40 2.32
Hypothetical indexicality with person 57.09*19.29*Hypothesis 5 supported at both sites
Hypothetical indexicality with person #site .70 6.18*
Actual indexicality with era .76 2.08 Hypothesis 5 not supported at either site
Actual indexicality with era #site .19 .31
N
OTE
.—The ANOVA included the covariates of site and respondent gender, age, education, and nationality, but these F-values are not reported above.
*.p!.05
tween fantasy and subjectivity and reality and objectivity
and to suggest that these distinctions are therefore arbitrary
or meaningless. However, from the perspective of our in-
formants and respondents, the distinction was often very
clear and influential. Consumers at both sites confidently
identified and described authentic and inauthentic site fea-
tures, and site features perceived as authentic often had a
different effect than inauthentic features. This supports
Scott’s (1993) suggestion that hyperreality may be more
evident from a detached analytic perspective than from the
perspective of someone participating in the marketplace (see
also Pen˜aloza 2001).
If consumers do indeed make distinctions between what
is real and what is not, how do they blur or blend the two?
Our study’s identification of hypothetical indexicality sug-
gests that imagination may play a role in this blending pro-
cess. At the Sherlock Holmes Museum, it appears that hy-
pothetical indexicality helped respondents to enjoy the
evidentiary function of particular site features despite the
fact that this “evidence” was in support of a fictional char-
acter. This is akin to the “suspension of disbelief” that is
sometimes mentioned in association with the consumption
of fictionally oriented marketing activity (Belk and Costa
1998; Stern 1994). Our results at the Sherlock Holmes Mu-
seum suggest that hypothetical indexicality plays a key role
in this blurring of fantasy and reality. More interesting are
the results for hypothetical indexicality at Shakespeare’s
Birthplace. Despite the fact that our respondents considered
Shakespeare to be a real historical person, perceptions of
hypothetical indexicality often had the strongest associations
with the benefits of authenticity. This suggests that imagi-
nation influences the perception of authenticity even in re-
lation to someone with historical status. A consumer’s belief
that a quill pen is evidence of Shakespeare’s existence ap-
pears to depend in part on their ability to imagine that Shake-
speare used the pen. This is a blurring of imagination and
belief—not in support of making a presumed fiction seem
more real, but in support of making a presumed fact seem
more real.
Limitations
Our findings must be understood in the context of our
study’s methodological trade-offs and limitations. First, be-
cause we examined consumer perceptions of objects asso-
ciated with two similar contexts, our measures for iconicity
and indexicality are likely to be limited by some context
specificity, and the generalizability of our findings to other
contexts and/or other types of authentic objects can be spec-
ulative only. However, we note that some of the indexical
cues that were important in our context were also found to
be influential in the assessment of authentic possessions
(Grayson and Shulman 2000). And, unlike most studies of
authenticity, ours analyzed consumer perceptions from two
contexts rather than one. The fact that both contexts pro-
duced some similar results helps to decrease concerns that
these findings result from a particular site’s idiosyncrasies.
A second limitation is internal validity. Although our
method had the advantage of allowing consumers naturalis-
tically to experience the sites without the influence of an
experimental manipulation, cross-sectional studies like ours
are limited in their ability to make confident assertions about
causality. Future research on iconicity and indexicality might
employ manipulations—such as priming different respon-
dents to focus on iconic or indexical cues or informing them
that the same object is either indexically or iconically au-
thentic—in order to test further the influence of these cues.
Third, although our internationally diverse group of re-
spondents supports the proposition that our findings are not
limited to a particular demographic category, it also intro-
duces a limitation: English was not a first language for some
pretest informants, who might therefore have had difficulty
communicating their thoughts accurately. Nonetheless, 24
of our 47 pretest informants were from English-speaking
308 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
FIGURE 3
THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN ICONICITY AND THE BENEFITS OF AUTHENTICITY
countries, and an additional seven were from countries
where natives tend to be fluent in English as a second or
third language. Furthermore, participating in the pretest re-
quired fairly advanced English speaking abilities, which cre-
ated an implicit fluency screen. We therefore believe that
our interviews provided a reasonable foundation for concept
pretesting and survey development. However, it is interest-
ing to consider consumer variables beyond basic demo-
graphics that might influence perceptions of iconicity and
indexicality. When developing this study, we thought that
one potentially influential factor might be consumer exper-
tise in the domain of interest. Although we used reliable
and valid measures of expertise, it had no significant main
or interactive effects on the other constructs (which is why
ICONICITY, INDEXICALITY, AND AUTHENTICITY 309
FIGURE 4
THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN INDEXICALITY AND THE BENEFITS OF AUTHENTICITY
we do not report this result in more detail). In retrospect, it
is not surprising that there were no effects for expertise,
because our data collection process allowed considerable
latitude for idiosyncratic identification of (in)authentic site
features. Experts and novices may have differed in their
criteria for identifying iconicity and indexicality, but this
difference may not have moderated the influence of iconicity
and indexicality on each individual’s perceptions. Future
research on authenticity might examine potentialdifferences
in standards used by experts versus novices. Another po-
tential influence on perceptions of iconicity and indexicality
is the perceived authority or expertise of the person or or-
ganization marketing the offering. Trust in the marketer is
likely to be an important factor in assessing iconicity and
310 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH
indexicality, but, because iconicity involves the evidence of
one’s senses and indexicality often does not, trust may be
more important for the latter.
Conclusion
Like most articles on authenticity, ours has highlighted
some of the tensions associated with the perception of au-
thenticity. We have contributed to an understanding of these
tensions by specifying how authenticity can be both a social
construction and a source of evidence, and by detailing how
the perception of authenticity can depend on the simulta-
neous application of imagination and belief. Because the
constructed and imagined nature of authenticity allows for
some latitude in the development and marketing of authentic
market offerings, organizations have considerable oppor-
tunity to profit from consumer demand for authenticity (Lu
and Fine 1995). Yet, as many researchers (e.g., Holt 2002;
Kozinets 2002) have noted, commercialization often un-
dermines the value of authenticity to consumers. This is in
part because, in the minds of consumers operating in the
marketplace, authenticity is associated with evidence and
truth. Consumers can therefore become circumspect if they
discover that the standards for authenticity have been ma-
nipulated for the purpose of making a profit. The cues for
communicating and perceiving authenticity are at the foun-
dation of this dialogue between marketers and consumers
over what is (or is not) authentic, and understanding and
specifying these cues is an important step in the process of
understanding this negotiation of meaning.
APPENDIX
SURVEY QUESTIONS
Iconicity with Fiction ( )
3
alpha p0.90
Stories or films about Sherlock Holmes/Shakespeare de-
pict this sort of thing.
This sort of thing is depicted in stories or films about
Sherlock Holmes/Shakespeare.
How likely is it that a story or film about Sherlock
Holmes/Shakespeare depicts something like this?
Iconicity with Old Things ( )alpha p0.93
It looked very old.
It looked as if it was made a long time ago.
How old did it look to you?
Iconicity with History ( )alpha p0.87
Historical documents about home life in the late 1800s/
1500s describe this sort of thing.
Historians agree that this sort of thing existed in the
3
The first two statements listed for each construct were rated on a seven-
point scale (anchored by strongly disagree–strongly agree or very un-
likely–very likely) and the third was rated on a five-point semantic differ-
ential. One exception is that all three measures for “evidentiary function of
site feature” were rated on a seven-point scale.
late 1800s/1500s.
How likely is it that historical documents about home
life during the late 1800s/1500s mention something like
this?
Actual Indexicality with Inhabitant ( )alpha p0.96
Sherlock Holmes/Shakespeare touched this or was phys-
ically near it.
This was touched by Sherlock Holmes/Shakespeare, or
he was physically near it.
How much do you believe that Sherlock Holmes/Shake-
speare actually touched this or was physically near it?
Hypothetical Indexicality with Inhabitant ( ).alpha p0.91
While I was looking at it, I felt as if Sherlock Holmes/
Shakespeare could have touched this or could have been
physically near it.
While I was in the museum, it made me feel as if
Sherlock Holmes/Shakespeare could have touched this
or could have been physically near it.
While you were looking at it, how much did you feel
as if Sherlock Holmes/Shakespeare could have touched
it or could have been physically near it?
Actual Indexicality with Inhabitant’s Era ( )alpha p0.93
It was made or built in the late 1800s/1500s.
This is old enough to be from the late 1800s/1500s.
How much do you believe this was made or built during
the late 1800s/1500s?
Perceived Evidence ( )alpha p0.93
It is almost like proof that Sherlock Holmes/Shake-
speare really existed.
It helped me to believe some facts about Sherlock
Holmes/Shakespeare.
It is almost like verification that Sherlock Holmes/
Shakespeare really existed.
Perceived Connection with the Past ( )alpha p0.93
When I looked at it, I felt a connection with the past.
It helped to transport me back in time.
How much of a connection with the past did this make
you feel?
[Dawn Iacobucci served as editor and Eric Arnould
served as associate editor for this article.]
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... However, the concept of line extension authenticity somewhat deviates from that of fit, because irrespective of whether the category of the extension is similar to that of the parent brand or not, or whether the specific associations of the brand are relevant or not, the extension itself may be perceived as authentic or not (Prados-Peña and del Barrio-Garc ıa, 2018). Put differently, line extension authenticity reflects the cultural congruency between the extension and the parent brand (Escalas and Bettman, 2003), while line extension fit appears to be neutral from a cultural and relational point of view (Grayson and Martinec, 2004; Prados-Peña and del Barrio-Garc ıa, 2018). This clearly shows that extension fit is a potential IMR moderator of the authenticity-extension attitude relationship. ...
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Purpose Grounded in categorization theory, this study examines the impact of luxury parent brand status signaling on brand extension authenticity and consumer attitudes in two international luxury markets. Design/methodology/approach Using samples of luxury consumers from France and the United States, the study's hypotheses are tested using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), structural equation modelling (SEM) and multi-groups comparisons. Findings Findings demonstrate that luxury parent brand (PB) status signaling, familiarity and perceived quality impact luxury extension authenticity, and authenticity has a significant effect on consumer attitudes toward the extension. The relationship between PB status signaling and extension authenticity is stronger for French consumers compared to their American counterparts. The effect of luxury PB perceived quality and familiarity on PB status signaling is similar for both American and French consumers. However, the effect of PB familiarity on luxury brand extension authenticity is stronger in France than the United States. Research limitations/implications Results provide researchers and managers with insights on how to design marketing programs for luxury line extensions in a cross-national context. Originality/value The authors contribute to existing literature examining factors related to the parent brand and the relationship between the parent brand and the extension by examining the effect of PB status signaling and extension authenticity on extension attitudes in two international luxury markets.
... Authenticity discusses the interplay between the original or genuine (authentic) and the counterfeit (imitation or fake that seems original). The exhibit of luxury fashion logos (e.g. Louis Vuitton's logo in bags) in a significantly intensified way by mass-market for selfexpression (Kapferer and Bastien, 2009), for symbolic purpose, heritage (Fionda and Moore, 2009) or exclusivity (Grayson and Martinec, 2004). In contrast, counterfeit is associated with products that resemble authentic goods. ...
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