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The Truth About Brands

Recently I was drawn into an argument, oh let’s call it a debate,  about whether a brand name should be based on the truth or not.

My debating partner (not opponent, shurely!) was of the opinion that it didn’t matter because – “Lots of successful brands are named after places that they have no connection with – consumers are happy to believe it and no-one gets hurt.”

The examples given included a certain kind of catch that is allegedly not caught in Donegal, amongst others. I vehemently disagree with this view – the brand under discussion was an artisan food brand.

It matters very much to the people who buy artisan foods whether the brand is bullshitting them or not. Telling these people lies would turn them into brand badvocates rather than advocates (note to posterity – I think I just made that word up! If I didn’t, I’m sure readers will respond below:)).

Even the non-artisan “catchy” brand alluded to above has got to suffer commercially from the wrath of the duped consumer – if you google their brand name, some of the first results are blogs raging about the fact that the product is sourced in places like Chile.

Additionally, I searched for their page on Facebook, but can’t find it. Is their reticence to get involved in social media caused by a fear of being shot down in public? That’s got to have a commercial implication, or at least present an opportunity to a rival brand with more integrity.

In my view, brands should be honest as much as possible.

  • If there is a truth you’re not comfortable with, find a way to talk about it that will be acceptable to your customers or change it altogether.
  • Stories are great assets to any brand – think about the real story behind your brand and share it. If your brand is based on a place name, for instance, that the product is not made in – create a real-life connection with that place.
  • Get involved with the community, with events or help to promote that place – don’t just use it and abuse it.

As a marketing professional, I value honesty and hate to see others in the marketing industry encouraging dishonesty – it’s a short-term strategy with high risks. What’s your honest opinion?

“Image from Pincasso/Shutterstock.”

Paula Ronan heads up Angel Marketing - an award-winning marketing agency in Ireland. Paula's experience in developing marketing stratgies, marketing plans and campaigns ranges from Coca-cola, BT, Sky TV to Today FM, Publishing Ireland, DoneDeal and lots of growing and start up businesses. Likes - strategy, creativity, integrity and straight-talking!

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  • Paula, you’re may not like me for saying this but isn’t all marketing inherently dishonest to a point. In other words, the job of marketing is about creating associations with brands that don’t actually exist. So perhaps the question is how big the lie and what’s too far? I’ve felt for a while that there is a huge marketing opportunity for what I would term ‘a warts an all approach’ because in my opinion the single biggest opportunity for brands right now is to really be authentic.     

  • Paula Ronan

    Thanks for the comment Niall – I would not recommend to anyone to create a non-existent association for any brand – there has to be truth in what is promised by a brand, whether it’s physical, psychological or emotional but I absolutely agree about the warts and all approach you suggest, especially in this age of social marketing, when nothing can be hidden.

  • Hi Paula,
    I wonder how the brand alluded to would fare under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980? Under this legislation the goods must be as described, whether the description is part of the advertising or wrapping, on a label, or something said by the salesperson. Hmmnn.And then there is the Consumer Information Act 1978, which governs “as to the place or country in which any goods were manufactured, produced, processed, reconditioned, repaired, packed or prepared for sale…”
    It is legislation like this that prevents sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region of France from being sold in Europe as “Champagne”.
    So  marketing departments should beware of falling foul, (or fish), of this legislation.  As for me, I like creative marketing, but I hate being misled and being lied to is a real no-no. Sometimes though, the lines are a little blurry. Thanks Paula, I shall trawl by the freezer cabinet slowly next time to read that packet …
    ~ Helen

  • I don’t know about the legalities but think of what happened to Denny / Galtee when it was shown that there weren’t so Irish as they were letting on. Totally agree with you – a brand needs a true story behind it and if it isn’t telling the truth, what happens when it is all splashed across the media

  • Paula Ronan

    Thanks for the comment, Lorna

  • Paula Ronan

    Thanks for the comment Helen – I think there was some BS mentioned about this place name being more an *idea* of a place than a place! It’s annoying to me to have people denigrating the marketing industry in this way – grrr!

  • I agree with you.Stories are really assets to any brand.You can always create a real life connection.Really good post.

  • I may be coming to this conversation a couple of weeks late, but I
    believe that brands can no longer afford to be dishonest. The veil has
    been and is being lifted. The age when brand managers and advertisers
    can blithely fabricate whatever story is most suitable for the
    marketplace is ending. Stories that sound great but are essentially
    false are destined to be exposed for what they are—beautiful lies. This
    may continue to work for a time, but brands are built and maintained
    over the long haul and the nature and availability of information, as
    you suggest is gradually putting an end to these tactics. We may not be
    there yet, but the winds are with we advocates for truth.

    In the end there is, I believe, a big difference between getting someone to
    buy something, and having someone buy nothing else but a particular
    brand for the rest of their lives. This is the power of a great brand.
    If the brand is at some point shown to be a lie, this is betrayal.
    Brands that don’t want “badvocates” should stick with the possibly more
    challenging task of hewing close to the truth. Think BP. Citation:

  • Thanks Niall, I am refreshed and ready for that follow up post. I would love some feedback in the comments here to give me some guidance as to the content of the follow up.

    Perhaps something around our attitude towards conducting ourselves both online and offline as employers/managers? As a consequence of traceability and transparency (with the constant “threat” of exposure if we do not conduct ourselves properly).

    And how our recent behavioural changes have or have not been influenced by the more recent theorists/experts in the areas of SM and SN?

  • My recommendation is that you read works by the pioneer of goal setting theory, Edwin A. Locke, e.g., Postmodernism and Management: Pros, Cons and the Alternative and Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior.

  • RE: Herzberg’s dissatisfiers, I’m not sure that job security, at least in this day and age, is ever a need  that will be satisfied for an individual, before he/she is required to meet job challenges imposed by supervisors. When the economy takes a downturn, fear reigns, and “Theory X” managers flourish. They are what’s killing the workforce.

  • Thanks for the recommendations 🙂 always a good topic to read about

  • I agree that there is nothing like a recession to bring out the ugly X in management style, all based on fear as you say.

    Fortunately, many of the workers who find themselves out of work, or suffering under the hands of an X manager, become entrepreneurs, and succeed. By process of elimination, entrepreneurs find themselves on the correct journey, rather than staying in a job out of fear, or because times are too good to leave.

    The beauty about recessions (esp here in Ireland) is that they create a new breed of entrepreneurs and creativity, networking becomes enjoyable again (relationship building) and theory Y in business flourishes.

    Of course, this is not always the case, and I am happy to report, this is what I am currently experiencing in Ireland 🙂

    Great points Heather, and thanks for sharing your insights

  • Karen Mahon

    Hi James- Wanted to make sure that you’re aware of our new service, Balefire Labs, for helping teachers sand parents find the best instructional apps for their kids. I started the business about 6 months ago because I was so frustrated with the process of finding high-quality and truly educational apps. Hope you’ll check us out and thanks!

  • Some interesting ways of using forms. I’m not a big fan of using third parties for contact forms. Because of there coding patterns some bots pick up on them.

  • Sabina Stoiciu

    Nishadha, I’m happy to hear the form use cases brought some insight to you. About your worries, the latest generation form building solutions, such as 123ContactForm, have several options to increase security, like SSL encryption, Captcha codes which are very efficient against bots and also passwords that can help you protect your forms even better.

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