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

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?