Are Brands As Bad As Politicians?

There’s another presidential debate this evening so I’ve got politics on my mind.  While the debates are focal points, the entire campaign season (a way too long season IMHO) has been filled with charges of factual distortion or outright lying by one candidate or another.  There are numerous non-partisan fact-checking sites so getting at the truth (or nearer to it anyway) isn’t as hard as one might think.  What the entire process does call into question, however, is how willing most of the participants are to stretch the truth, to use selective data points while ignoring others that don’t help them, or to fabricate allegedly factual statements out of whole cloth.

The unfortunate reality is that politicians aren’t alone in this.  In fact, one could say that they’re no worse than many marketers.  There is an interesting column this morning in a marketing blog that asks if CMO’s know when they’re lying:

As consumers’ ability and interest in monitoring corporate behavior intensifies, major brands like McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, and Coca-Cola are clearly injecting corporate-social-responsibility messages into marketing platforms as never before.  Trouble is, telling the truth has never been a marketer’s strong suit. In fact, we are still shaking our heads at how distorted some of these hybridized half-pitches, half-aren’t-we-a-good-company messages are.

No one over the age of 10 thinks french fries or sugary drinks are good for you so selling them with a nutrition message is just wrong.  If you saw a message like that you’d scoff.  But  how many marketers knowingly tell half-truths that are less apparent to the consumer?  No, I don’t expect that any brand will state “this is an OK product that will probably fall apart in a year but what do you want for a third of what you’d pay for the best?”.  However, how many food products add “natural” to the label to imply that an otherwise non-nutritious box of cereal is wholesome?  How many bad home loans were written on terms the lender knew the buyer was unable to afford by making it seem as if they could?  I’m sure you could add a few examples here.

We’re quick to criticize politicians (you can tell he’s lying because his lips are moving).  It might not be a bad thing to think about glass houses while we do so.

Thoughts?

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