Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


We are weak.

We succumb to colors, atmospheres, words and pictures.

But most of all, we succumb to stories.

We love to retell them. We love to believe that we found out about them first. And we love to embellish them because it makes us seem like people whose stories you want to listen to again.

Is it a surprise, then, that marketers spin yarns?

If you, like me, often succumb to chocolate, you'll perhaps have heard of the Mast Brothers.

These hipstery Brooklyn types launched their chocolate brand with a tale of how they used to make their product in their tiny apartment.

They were always, as the parlance has it, bean-to-bar. This is the chocolate equivalent of farm-to-table. Or living-in-a-shoe-to-Trump-Tower.

Suddenly, the Mast Brothers are accused of being the Marx Brothers -- something of a joke in the chocolate world, but not a funny one.

The DallasFood.org blog, in the person of Scott Craig, offered a four-square series that suggested these bearded boys were really beastly boys.

It accused the Masts of originally selling chocolate that was something of a remelted has-bean, rather than made from pure scratch.

In an interview with the New York Times, Rick Mast admitted that there had been some remelting in the early days, but that their brand soon turned into a pure beanfest.

Authenticity and purity are characteristics that so many brands hanker for. It's no wonder that conglomerates like Clorox buy up brands like Burt's Bees.

Still, Craig insists that the Masts are no better than Lance Armstrong in enhancing the  performance of their brand with stories of authentic origins.

Craig does, though, suggest there might be deeper, more disturbing levels of subterfuge.

On the DallasFood.org Tumblr page, there's the extremely painful implication that the Masts might have grown their hipster beards with purely cynical aims in mind.

In their hearts, goes the notion, these aren't pre-Mumford, suspender-wearing, PBR cap-collecting gentlemen who would spin yarn on a wheel in order to make warm yellow sweaters.

No, these are allegedly yarn-spinners of very different sort, who merely grew their facial hedges for the sake of pure image.

One might, of course, wonder that every hipster's beard is a mere facade. In the same bushy breath, one might also argue that many brand values are a mere facade too.

In this, we might elect to blame ourselves.

We're the ones who are sometimes desperate to get taken in by whatever tales a brand might tell.

We want to believe that something washes whiter, tastes of Rocky Mountains or makes us think different.

We're taken in every day by concepts such as "handmade," "organic" or the wonderfully nebulous "artisan."

We bathe in origin stories because somehow they make marvelous movies in our heads.

Sometimes, it takes us years or even lifetimes to realize that our experiences had no real underpinning. It just made us feel good for a while -- about our choices, that is.

When we find out that what seemed organic was in fact genetically modified by a group of tipsy scientists in Michigan, we rail at the fates far more than we bash our own heads for our gullibility.

It's true that in current times, many want to grant an additional respect to those who use traditional methods and somehow possess genuine roots.

It's as if we need their purity to compensate for our own lives, sullied as they are by compromise, tainted by a mentality of instrumentality.

We need to believe that someone else remained authentic, while we fell off the wooden wagon a long time ago.

Some, naturally, have expressed their outrage -- naturally, on Twitter -- that there's even the suspicion of hipstery hoodwinking.

The Times says that if you pay $10 for a tour of the Masts' Williamsburg shop, the guides wax lyrical about the pure roots of the brand.

Might this remind some of stories told by, say, winemakers who claim all sorts of fine elements went into the making of their $150 Cabernets?

Only when you get to know them at their slurry best do you discover that quite literally the very same wine is being sold under four entirely different brand names at four entirely different prices.

But is it too naive to ask one frightfully authentic question: Do you actually like the chocolate?

Shouldn't that be only criterion that ultimately matters?

Or would we prefer our palates to suffer for some greater, more authentic cause?

Our own self-image, perhaps.