Some Marketers are Liars. Some Just Stupid.

Sometimes I wonder why marketers have a bad name. There are many that I know who actively strive to do good things, raise awareness, build brands, generate sales, prod, poke and provoke us into doing better work, create job and professional opportunities and to bring people together. These are smart, passionate people who can deliver creative and compelling business value and would have no problem taking a seat at the boardroom table.

But then, you see something that draws your breath. Makes you see the marketing world as others do … as illogical, tactically oriented and slightly foolish. This piece of “brand insight” from Martin Lindstrom surprises me … he is talking about the way that branding bottled water with “PWS” (public water source) can actually drive sales … that by publicly admitting that you are using PWS (ie tap water) that you can create a “first mover” advantage in the North American beverage market — and that people won’t actually mind. By way of example, he cites the tobacco industry. But these are very different products and categories. And unless I am mistaken, there are no addictive elements added to water.

Dennis Howlett points out that telling the truth should not hurt the beverage industry, and says, “If you can’t trust the brand, then what can you trust?”. This is exactly the point that seems lost in Lindstrom’s analysis. Encouraging any brand (let alone leading brands such as Coke) to play fast and loose with the truth is inviting a tidal wave of social media criticism. In an increasingly connected world, brands are only as squeaky clean as their last campaign — and we consumers, audiences, segments and participants are far less forgiving and more determined than ever before. The sooner brands start to rethink their network of advisors and start listening to agencies that get it, the better off we all will be.

6 thoughts on “Some Marketers are Liars. Some Just Stupid.

  1. Gavin,
    Sometimes I wonder if I live on the same planet that those who lie in business live on. Lying is stupid, a failed strategy, dangerous and malicious. I just do not understand the fear and/or loathing that business people must feel regarding their customers.

  2. Gavin,
    Great point! Never underestimate the power of truth/lie + social media. This is indeed a new and delicate area of expertise. Like DA pointed in his post analysis of “Always in Beta”: people don’t like to be fooled, so… brands, beware!

  3. Hey Gav
    Wow BSP! Paul has this to say today:
    So the answer is simple. If you want to have consumers’ trust, behave in a trustworthy manner. Stop advertising claims about your product which, while technically true, are probably intangible to real people. Stop trying to imply that anyone out there will notice the 2% performance difference between you and your competitors. And certainly don’t rubbish those competitors. Instead, focus on the emotional connection between yourself and consumers. Focus on why they should feel good about choosing your product. Start focusing on the fact that there are probably four products in your category that perform to expectation indistinguishably, but your consumers will have a favourite anyway. And never stray.
    If it isn’t based in truth, you’ll be found out. if it only goes as deep as your TV ads, it will be seen as skin deep. However, if you engage in activities and communications that get close to your consumers, that reward your consumers and that offers your consumers value (value from the communications themselves, not just the value in the product that consumers pay you for), then you might end up with a significant brand advantage

  4. There is a school of marketing (one that includes many politicians) that says that people will happily buy crap if it’s just packaged differently.
    I’m not so sure that’s incorrect, but it is most certainly wrong.

  5. The story is fantastic, pointing out that the PWS will not stop consumers from purchsing bottled water as smoking health warnings don’t stop smokers from buying smokes. But the industry is seeing a push to stop bottle water due to the cost to the enviroment through the packaging, transport, etc
    Very clever insight

  6. Gavin,
    What a load of low rent arse that was – and pumped out by ad age no less. I have a scary feeling Lindstrom wrote a really pointless book recently as well.
    Having said that isn’t there an Australian brand called Just another bloody water that uses PWS in an overt manner.

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