January 25th, 2012
Scarcely a day goes by in which I don't get tweeted yet another article talking about authentic brands, authentic personal brands, authentic branding, and, of course, transparency and truth in advertising.
And I get it: In a networked world, more consumers have more access to more information, more quickly, than they've ever had, and they're better at parsing messages than they've ever been.
But here's the funny thing: Consumers don't actually want the whole truth. Those of us who spend a lot of time on social media talk a blue streak about truth and transparency because we see our little blogosphere world blow up when some brand gets caught in a lie or the halfwit intern in charge of the corporate Twitter account says something stupid, but it's not that simple. And here's how I know.
Regular milk has dead bacteria in it
A few years ago, I spent a lot of time working on a milk account, one of the 'fine filtered' milks that have done such a good job of de-commoditizing the milk segment. The side of the milk carton says that the milk is "92x more pure" than regular milk because it's been "filtered".
The truth is that it's more like 1000x more pure; the reason it's more pure is that the 'filtering' has removed the dead bacteria that were killed by pasteurization; and the reason that it stays "fresher, longer" is because there aren't any bacteria carcasses rotting in the milk.
But in focus groups, consumers didn't believe the "1000x more pure" claim, and they definitely didn't want to hear about dead bacteria floating around in regular milk - even though once you know that, you'll never drink non-fine-filtered milk ever again.
Citronella doesn't do jack squat
I also worked on a big household products brand, who had a big insect repellent line of products. One of the products they made was citronella candles and lanterns, but they never wanted to advertise them. Why? Because they knew - through their own, and independent, testing - that citronella does almost nothing to repel insects, especially mosquitoes. The corporate culture was one of high ethics and family values, and it killed them that stores were marketing citronella products next to 'real' insect repellents.
When they tried to explain to consumers that citronella products weren't effective, they got an incredibly negative response. So they finally just gave in and made them - but, in a move that will shock those of you who think that marketers are all evil, refused to let us promote them as insect repellents.
Water by any other name must be special
Have you ever looked at a bottle of, say, shampoo, and noticed that the first ingredient is often listed as 'Aqua'? That's water, of course. And you think to yourself: Why on earth don't they just say 'water'?
A couple of years ago I was working on a personal care brand who tested ingredient lists with consumers, and the truth is that 90% of them prefer a shampoo or conditioner which uses 'aqua' rather than 'water', even when they know perfectly well that 'aqua', is, in fact, just water. They'll even pay a premium for it. They figure that water which is called 'aqua' is probably fancier water than the stuff that comes out of a tap - it must be distilled, or glacial, or something. Even though it never is.
...so don't get all snippy. I mostly think that there are so many messages flying at consumers from so many directions all the time that they simply don't have time to think too much about dead bacteria in their milk, or seek out primary-source data on citronella instead of believing their sister-in-law, and I think it's just fine if they enjoy 'aqua' more than plain old 'water'. It's not like I'm making my own soap out of lye and olive oil, and I'm quite sure I'm living in my own little world of self-delusion about the products I buy.
I'm just saying that marketers are still doing a lot of storytelling, and the stories haven't suddenly become non-fiction.
Tagged under : truth in advertising
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