As the Grand Depart left Leeds for the start of the Tour de France, it was great to see a sport which has been subject to its fair share of hype and scandal treated to some traditional Yorkshire hospitality.
Social media has been alive with funny and heartfelt tributes to the competitors, from bicycles made from sausages to dogs sporting flat caps in Tour colours. The genuine enthusiasm for the Grand Depart has been infectious.
The Tour has also been a springboard for some canny PR, with premium cycling clothing brand Rapha taking advantage of the current mania for everything on two wheels. The brand was founded 10 years ago, but successfully trades on a supposed heritage, with a name from a 1960s French team and a logo that suggests a long and noble history.
There’s a name for this kind of activity, much loved of hipster brands, to achieve a kind of quaint, retro chic. It’s called fauxthenticity, which has been described as ‘the conscientious, studied, and contrived attempt to appear authentic, graceful, and natural’.
Another example is Harris+Hoole, a chain of coffee shops. Its website tells you it’s a family affair, ‘from our roots making coffee on the backstreets of London’. Would you guess from this that it is 49% owned by Tesco?
None of us like to be duped, but the commercial success of brands like Rapha and Harris+Hoole suggest that, even when we know the authenticity is manufactured, we are happy to go along for the ride. In an age of social media, where we can create our own version of an ‘authentic’ self, we respond to brands that speak to our self image.
Who wants to be a Starbucks slave when you can sip your latte in an independent café? Who wants to sweat in nylon when you can absorb the ethos of the golden age of cycling by osmosis in well-designed lycra?
Yet whatever the power of brands to redefine who we think we are, the Grand Depart experience tells us that there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned authenticity. With the biggest crowds in the Tour’s 101 year history lining the roads, the people of Yorkshire were the best PR the region has ever had.