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Genuine. Authentic. Original. The real deal.

No matter how they spell it, U.S. marketers are jumping on a genuine bandwagon in hopes of impressing jaded 1990s consumers-with messages ranging from "Genuine Chevrolet" to Dockers Authentics to "Genuine Jockey."

Replacing "ultra" as a marketing buzzword, "genuine's" popularity may stem from the same sources that have prompted an overdone boom in clear products, said Michael Solomon, chairman of the marketing department at Rutgers University.

"People are trying to throw off the shackles of materialism of the 1980s," he said. "Metaphorically, they are looking for a fresh start."

"Genuine" also appeals to consumers wary of advertising promises. "People expect to be deceived by marketing messages," said Russell Ferstandig, president of Competitive Advantage Consulting, New York. "In using `genuine,' you're saying you're not one of the imitators-that this is the thing consumers can believe."

For instance, what consumer would believe good salsa can be made in Manhattan? "It's like a Broadway play produced in San Antonio," said Matt Mohr, marketing manager for Pace Foods.

The No. 1 Mexican sauce marketer positions its Texas-made Pace brand against a fictitious rival "made in New York," in ads from Temerlin McClain, Dallas. TV spots end with the tagline, "Pick up the original, pick up the Pace."

When hairstylist John Paul Mitchell tells consumers to look for "genuine" Paul Mitchell products, the company is challenging knock-offs-a growing problem in the age of higher-quality, better-marketed private label.

"The idea for marketers that you're `it' is extremely appealing, particularly when there are so many parity products," said Irma Zandl, president of Zandl Group, a New York youth-oriented research company.

"This is today's chic stance, to be authentic," she said.

"Consumers are not as brand loyal anymore, and tried-and-true brands have been challenged by a whole host of sources," said Marty Horn, VP-group research director for DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, whose 18-year Life Style Study has shown declining brand loyalty since the early 1980s. "Many of these brands find they have to re-establish their credentials."

Before Ralph Lauren became the standard in men's polo shirts, there was Izod Lacoste. Devanlay SA this month will try to elevate the credentials of its $65 classic polo shirt, complete with the brand's trademark crocodile logo, as "The authentic. The original. Made in France" in magazine ads from the Kuester Group, Minneapolis.

Devanlay U.S. President Ari Hoffman said the company wants consumers to know the real Lacoste is back. "It's comfortable for 1990s consumers," he said of the trend toward "genuine" taglines. "It's like going home."

Fashion marketers are hot on authentic concepts. Sara Lee Foundations is touting its European sensation in the U.S. as "the one and only Wonderbra" to put would-be upstarts in their place. Taos Country Western Collection clothing is promoted as "Guaranteed authentic" by the Horizon Group.

Messages like "Genuine Jockey," for Jockey International's men's underwear, add value to brands battered by comparisons to improved private-label products, said Karen Green, VP-group research director for Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "It's a way to talk about quality without going back to the excesses and artificiality of the '80s."

"Genuine Jockey," from Fairman, Schmidt & Cappelli, broke in August, 30 years after Jockey was introduced as the first men's knit brief.

"We felt our heritage allowed us to say `genuine,'*" said Terry Allen, Jockey exec VP. "If you think of jeans, you think Levi's. In men's knit underwear, Jockey is it."

The genuinely biggest-budget message is coming from Chevrolet, whose research shows consumers like the new "Genuine Chevrolet" tag because it portrays the brand as highest quality, trustworthy, dependable, approachable and honest.

But Bill Ludwig, exec VP-creative director for Chevy agency Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., said "genuine" can only be used by marketers that have forged "an enduring emotional bond with the American consumer."

In addition to Chevrolet, he cited brands such as Coke, Levi's, McDonald's and Budweiser.

Levi Strauss & Co., which uses the "authentic" tag on jeans labels, markets its fashion-oriented Dockers line as Dockers Authentics. "What we wanted to do is imply a timelessness-a product that's new but has been here all along," said Jack Rooney, senior VP-group management supervisor at Dockers agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco.

Burnett's Ms. Green said U.S. consumers will see more genuine slogans. "As we approach the end of decades, but particularly as we approach the end of a century, there's a tendency for a lot of `retro' messages to pop up," she said. "When no one is clear about what's going to happen, it's natural to return to what's familiar and true."

So long as it isn't overly genuine.

"Marketers think that anything worth doing is worth overdoing," DDB Needham's Mr. Horn said, pointing to "all-natural" as a label that lost its valuable positioning through overuse.

Contributing to this story: Pat Sloan, Raymond Serafin and Emily DeNitto.

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