Beware outrage that follows false claims

In such an exposed market, with consumer trust at an absolute premium, you must be able to stand by every message you communicate to the market.

Whether it be an offer or promotion conveyed through your advertising or a claim printed on your packaging, it has to be honest and to the consumer’s taste.

If that seems like a fairly simple requirement, it is strange that there are so many instances around of brands being accused of getting it wrong.

Ofcom this week braced itself for a backlash from some of the UK’s top broadband providers after publishing a report claiming that consumers all over the country have far slower broadband speeds than the advertised packages they signed up for. Predictably, Ofcom’s findings and methods were immediately dismissed as “questionable” and “unreliable” by BT and Carphone Warehouse, but if providers can’t offer the download speed they are advertising they need to take more care with their messages.

“There is no room for anything that is going to resemble a misleading marketing claim”

On the theme of false marketing claims, there was a report in a Sunday paper this month, detailing food products and supplements named by the European Food Safety Authority for making unproven claims about their health benefits. Again, companies as large as Danone, Unilever and Nestlé reacted badly and removed their products from the EFSA verification process.

Marketers must first understand, and then play a role in convincing every other part of their businesses that there is really no room for anything that is going to even resemble a misleading marketing claim. The disputes and disappointment that follow misleading communications are now noisier than ever. We’ve seen it for ourselves in the Marketing Week newsroom in the number of consumers – not marketers necessarily – that got in touch with us after Ruth Mortimer’s column last week. Ruth’s view that book publishers indulge in lazy marketing and confuse consumers by exploiting the names of famous authors to sell books by “lesser” writers prompted sackloads of comments. We’ve published a few arguments from both sides on the news and debate pages this week.

And, as if your job wasn’t difficult enough already, you also need to watch out for perfectly honest words and phrases in your messages that might simply turn your customers off through over-use. Can you think of any examples? Try “green”, “diet” and “Web 2.0” Any more? Read our cover story on the “poisonous terms of marketing” which starts on page 16. We offer case studies showcasing the terms that other marketers see as brand poisons and offer the remedies and antidotes to those toxins.

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