The pitfalls of boasting about your brand

The integrity of your business begins with your brand. Andrew Wigley, chief operating officer at All About Brands, looks at the pitfalls of making bold claims about what a brand can deliver and the ramifications if it can’t live up to them.

Last year, one of the world’s biggest brands was forced into an embarrassing climb down. Coca-Cola was told to withdraw three posters and a leaflet for its functional water brand Glacéau Vitaminwater because of misleading claims the company made about the drink’s health benefits. It was a reminder of how careful companies need to tread in this area. Similarly, Danone, producer of Actimel, was forced to pull ads claiming that the product would enhance a child’s immune system.

Even the world’s biggest businesses are prone to falling into the trap of making boastful claims about their brands and getting caught out when those claims cannot be fully substantiated.

It’s particularly pertinent to those brands in the business of claiming health benefits associated to consuming or using a product. Whether it’s running a marketing campaign on the benefits of yoghurt to the digestive system or running a public affairs programme about cholesterol-busting margarines, claiming your brand has any benefit to human health is fraught with risks for several reasons.

The first is regulatory. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), once seen as a rather toothless body, has had to respond markedly in recent years to a highly complex media and product environment, and be seen to respond to consumers’ concerns about wrongdoing.

As a result, it’s become much more aggressive and unforgiving. Take the case of Coca-Cola; the tagline on one poster sounded innocuous enough – “More muscles than Brussels” which the company claimed was a reference to Belgian action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme. But the ASA ruled that the product could not claim to help enhance muscle strength. It also disliked the ambiguity of comparing the health benefits of water with Brussels sprouts. The ASA received just three complaints about the product but it needed to be seen to take those complaints seriously and ruled accordingly. William Hill also had to pull a campaign recently after the ASA received just one complaint, on the basis of which an investigation was undertaken and the body ruled against the bookmaker. The regulator has now has bite.

The second is the ephemeral nature of science. Laying strong claim to the health benefits of a product supported by research in one branch of science, can easily unravel with another set of scientific results undermining health assertions and causing conflict. In the case of Danone, the ASA was not convinced that the scientific research on which the Actimel health claims were made provided sufficient absolute proof that it would improve a child’s immune system. In other words, the ASA was guided by the precautionary principle, and while the science was very strong, there remained a niggling doubt that Actimel wouldn’t benefit all children.

Another example is the tea and coffee industries, both of which have spent large sums of money in promoting the health benefits of both products. But there is also strong evidence to suggest that the apparent benefits are offset by negative consequences attributed in part to the caffeine content. As a result health claims have become so ambiguous that I question whether they add any real value from a marketing perspective.

Also, laying claim to certain nutritional or health advantages can equally expose your brand. And that can lead down the slippery path towards endless litigation – Tobacco Road being the big historical example of that.

But the matter of building and protecting your brand and its reputation extends way beyond the issue of claiming health benefits associated to consuming a product.

Another recent ruling by the ASA left the Stansted Express’s advertising campaign in tatters. The train operator running between London’s Liverpool Street and Stansted Express had long run a promotional campaign purporting that the average journey time from the airport to central London was just 35 minutes. It was, at best, misleading. That journey time took the passenger from Stansted to Tottenham Hale which, in zone 3, is still some distance from central London. The journey time is in fact between 45-50 minutes.

In the long run, being less than honest about what you brand delivers can be far more damaging in terms of the customer experience and reputation that is established from that experience.

As a custodian of your brand, you should always focus on the strengths of your products. It is astonishing how many brands try to make claims as part of their proposition which then prove to be unfounded. Where the customer is concerned, honesty is the best policy and woe betide any business if they think otherwise.

For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit www.freshbusinessthinking.com

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Telesales & Sales Support Apprentice

£221.25 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a well established Inter...

Client Relationship Manager - SQL, Python

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Client Relationship Manager - SQL...

**Financial Services Tax**

£35000 - £50000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Take your chance to join the...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit