(This post was originally published in May of 2011, but with trust at the center of business and life, the points made here are worth re-stating!)
Several years ago, I rushed into a supermarket to pick up some apple juice for my toddler son. In my haste, I read “Apple Juice…” on the label and brought it to the checkout.
When I got home, I realized that I bought a product that wasn't what I thought it was; it wasn't really apple juice; it was a watered down, sugared-up version of the healthier product that I thought I was buying.
At first, I wanted to kick myself for making a stupid mistake. But the guilt was short-lived. Instead, I decided to blame those duplicitous marketers that designed the label. In great big letters, the label announced “Apple Juice.” Beneath that, there was much smaller print that said “… beverage containing 10% juice.”
"The only reason," I thought, "that those revealing words were smaller, was because the company’s marketing and product packaging team were trying to deceive me; they knew I’d read the bigger words on the label, and no more. They thought they could trick the customer, and I fell for it!"
This week, there was an interesting article in Sunday's New York Times about the claims that many food product companies are making about the often exagerated healt benefits of their food products, particularly in advertising, and product packaging.
This article illustrates an unfortunate reality of the traditional approach to consumer-focused marketing:
What you claim doesn’t have to be TRUE, it only has to be LEGAL.
It’s about saying whatever you can get away with saying in order to sell your product, as long as you're not breaking any laws by saying it; whether or not the claim is true based on how the customer will perceive the message doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s legal.
Presently, companies have to answer to the FDA and FTC when they make marketing claims about the healthfulness of their products. The ultimate goal of the messaging used by companies named in this article is not to make people healthy; the goal is simply to sell more product.
Eventually, and hopefully sooner than later, legal authorities will have less influence on the claims that marketers make. The influence of these legal authorities will be obfuscated by the influence of the drive toward TRANSPARENCY.
Customers crave truth and transparency, and thanks to social media, they're getting more of it. Twitter feeds, Blogs, Facebook postings and other Web 2.0 sources are revealing more information about companies at faster speeds than even the companies can keep pace. The access to information, and “Truth Brokers” such as Angie’s List and others, and the increasing use of social media, are collectively forming a stronger force than the smartest deception-based spin masters and hair-splitting corporate attorneys in marketing departments.
In the future, a dubious health claim made by a company about its product will do more harm to a company’s reputation and market standing, by painting the company as dishonest and deceptive - exactly what consumers are learning to loathe.
The companies that realize this and the companies that voluntarily move from a legal orientation to one of pure truth and transparency will ultimately prevail.
Those marketers that take it upon themselves to be more truthful will ultimately win more market share. They’ll do this by de-emphasizing a legal-orientation in their marketing claims, and increasing their focus on truth and full disclosure.
Before long, Truth will be the only healthy alternative for marketing .
Thanks to Daniel Rosenbaum and The New York Times for this image of purportedly functional foods.
According to the Times article, "Shoppers must be able to trust brands "to have good science backing up their claims," says Mary K. Engle of the F.T.C."