Faking an Identity: How Inauthentic Organizations Dress Up

by cv harquail on October 31, 2008

Special Halloween Edition

imposter kids in masks authentic fake organizations astroturfing In the spirit of Halloween, a time of costumes, treats and tricks, I’m inspired to start a list of ways that organizations dress themselves up so that they appear to be what they are not. Some of these terms and concepts are familiar. Some terms I’ve invented (4, 5, 6) and two need better names (7 & 8).

1. Astroturfing: Pretending to be a grassroots organization when you are not, so that the organization looks like an authentic representation of citizens’ or consumers’ self-defined interests.. Examples include the Center for Consumer Freedom and Working Families for Wal-Mart .

2. Good-coating : Claiming that your products or services are socially-responsible or benefit society, when they don’t. A deceptive or misleading use of cause marketing.

imposter inauthentic organization fake 3. Greenwashing : Misleading the public about the organization’s environmental practices or history, and/or misleading the public about the environmental benefits of your organization’s product or service. Similarly, the term green sheen describes when organizations attempt to appear that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment.

4. Potemkins : Presenting your organization as being larger, more impressive, more positive etc. than it is (often through communication practices such as online presence, business address, promotional materials, etc.) The intent of the organization’s presentation not to convey truth but instead to misleadingly impress outsiders.

imposter hedgehog fake organization greenwashing good-coating 5. Reputation squatting ®: When a smaller or newer organization takes on some or all of the name of an older, larger and well-known organization that also has a positive reputation, when there is no relationship between the organizations. The intent is to free-ride on the benefits of the famous organization’s reputation. Examples include: Princeton Ski Shops, Princeton Driving School, and the Princeton Review college-preparation business . None of these organizations has any connection to Princeton University, but they all benefit from the positive halo of the Princeton name. An accidental example of negative reputation-squatting? Palin Syrah.

6. Trojan Horses: When the organization takes a name and a public profile designed to appeal to a certain values set, which covers its actual intentional antagonism to that value set. Examples include the American Pregnancy Association , TeenBrakes, and Care Net. A special type of Trojan Horse is the GONGO.

imposter Moai stone reputation squatting Potemkin Greenwash astroturfing GONGO: Government-organized (GO) non-governmental organizations (+NGOs ) created by a government or by government officials, their relatives and friends, that support the government, often by using money intended for the civil society. [note: These are such an absurd contradiction that they’d be funny, if they were not so destructive of the concept of government for the people.]

imposter penguin fake organization Gongo reputation squatting greenwash greenwashing 7. “We just made it up, and we like it”: When an organization creates a fake name, fake history, fake founders, fake heritage, etc. (often for marketing proposes) and then adopts this to help define the organization. Examples include Thornberg & Forester, Gilly Hicks, and The Heartland Foods Corporation.

8. Values Portfolio Contradiction: When an organization uses tactics that contradict their values, such as when PETA uses sexism & misogyny to promote animal rights.

More Kinds of Faking? What should be added to this list? Any good examples, or new types? Give us some good ideas, and I’ll send you some Snickers bars.

Happy Halloween!

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