The 3Ls That Can Kill Your Brand. Forever.
As marketers, most of us pride ourselves for adhering to truth in advertising and being honest in all we say about our products and brands. Copywriter, strategist, social or content marketers, we always tell the truth. Right? Actually you shouldn’t be so quick or sure to answer that question.
In many cases, we marketers unwittingly lie about our products all of the time.
Remember that adjective in a social post about being the “leading” brand in your category, or claiming that you have a “scientifically proven” solution because one survey with a small sample was in your favor? We can say these things if there is at least one incidence of truth, right?
To many marketers, little claims which can be substantiated in at least one incident, e.g., leading for just one month’s sales reports, or scientifically proven in a study that only covered a small portion of your markets, are perfectly acceptable. Yet to many consumers, these claims are fodder for lawsuits, let alone the lost loyalty from those who don’t sue you.
Here’s a couple of examples from a Business Insider article, March 2016, about how those innocent words or “suggestions” can get brands in big trouble.
- Tesco, a SuperMarket in the U.K., got caught up in a scandal for using horsemeat in its “beef” products. So the company decided to run an ad explaining how this happened. However, Tesco also chose to imply that this was happening industry-wide. That resulted in the U.K. advertising regulator banning the ad and about a $300 million drop in the brand’s value.
- Kellogg’s got its hands slapped by the FTC for claiming its Rice Krispies could boost a child’s immunity as the FTC couldn’t find anything but dubious data to back that up.
- And one of the most interesting lawsuits that actually cost a brand a lot of money and respect was over Red Bull’s tagline claim that their drink could “give you wings” and intellectual energy. Obviously just a fun slogan to most. However, a consumer claimed he had been drinking Red Bull for 10 years and had no wings to show for it, or improved intellect (that last claim rings true). But a judge bought it and Red Bull had to pay out $13 million and $10 to every customer buying its drink in the past 12 years. True story!
If you Google “honest advertising that works,” you’ll get a few articles featuring logic-defying “honest” ads that expose a product’s flaws, almost to the point of dishonesty of how bad something is. These include ads for real estate and hotels saying how awful their places are in ways that are so bad they spark curiosity and make one want to experience the property to see for themselves. So yep, they worked. By being “honest” to the edge of being “dishonest” about your product, some clever copywriters have discovered the power of sparking curiosity to sell products. But there’s a deeper lesson here.
We consumers are attracted to brands that are not without flaws, or skeletons in the closet, and are willing to admit it. We are starting to run from those with claims of “perfect customer service” or “best-in-class” ratings, as we don’t believe those any more. And we’d rather surround ourselves with flawed brands vs. perfect ones, as we admit we are not perfect, either. Perhaps psychologists are right: We want to associate with products, people and brands that have like values, social class, and perfectionism standards or ideals. We are not perfect and thus are not comfortable around those who seem to be. And perhaps yet again, we like to associate with those who we believe, and whose claims are not “too good to be true.”
Another lesson here is that consumers don’t trust brands. Period. Especially if you are in financial services of any kind. So if you tell them you’re No. 1 and even if you have more than one small study to prove it, its not likely believable, as past decades of hyped-up claims have left consumers skeptical for likely many decades to come.
So what’s the actionable point in all of this? Before releasing your brand content across all of your channels, and using those overused adjectives with just a slight hint of hyperbole to try to set you apart, check your copy and messaging against the following checklist.
- Could this Pass the 'A' Test, if it had to be proven in court? The "A" test is not A for above average in creativity and clever language, but A for adjective. Can you prove that you are “leading” in a significant way that benefits consumers? Can you prove “outstanding” or “improved” results against others' products or your past versions?
- Stats vs. Facts: A fact is something that can be proven to be true with valid data or information. A statistic is not always as “factual” as we are led to believe. Stats can be manipulated and reported out of context, or reported from sample sizes too small or too remote to represent larger populations. Be sure you can back up the “stats” and the “facts” you use.
- Creative Backlash: While the lawsuit over the claim that “Red Bull gives you wings,” seems ludicrous to most adults, marketers or not, the consumer won. Don’t forget that. If you want to create those aspirational images and messages, make sure you do with language that makes it real and arguable in your favor if you go to court. And don’t forget to rely on that fine print disclaimer if you need to.
In the end, remember, words, promises, claims, statements, even implications, reflect your brand character, and character is the most valuable asset for sustainable growth. Jon Huntsman, a multibillionaire respected for integrity in business, wrote in his book, “There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life. There are, basically, three kinds of people, the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.”
Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at Jeanette@e4marketingco.com.