Honesty is the best policy. The Four Golden Rules of Brand Honesty

More then ever, honesty is vital for brands as consumers become more switched on, less naïve and ready to boycott those brands they don’t trust. Brands have the ability to have relationships with their audience and like any good, successful relationship, they should be built on trust and honesty. Brands are built on perceptions. You can’t just say that your brand is honest in the hope that the public will believe it. You need to earn this trust in every transaction, interaction and experience your audience has with your brand.

Being an honest brand comes down to practicing what you preach, being transparent about your business practices, what you have to offer and how you offer it. With the likes of the internet and social media, if your brand crosses any line with its audience, if it’s anything but honest, they will retaliate by posting, tweeting and blogging about it ‘til the cows come home. The power is in their hands. They have a voice. It’s loud and you need to listen to it.

The funnier side of the public taking things into their own hands comes in the form of advertising spoofs such as this hilarious and clever take on the cosmetic industry by Jesse Rosten, a filmmaker out of the States.

The cosmetic industry has long been known to stretch the truth more than a little. This is an industry based on overly re-touched images and often a very narrow view of what beauty is, causing insecurity for girls and women alike. Cosmetic advertising and fashion/celebrity magazines often leave women feeling vulnerable about their own looks by comparing themselves to the skinny models, retouched images, unrealistic before and after shots, and enhanced features.

In recent years we’ve seen the likes of brands like Dove using more realistic models in their campaigns in an attempt to raise their brand honesty and earn trust from the public. Sarah Murdoch also featured on the front cover of Australian Women’s Weekly in a completely untouched image, encouraging women to embrace the beauty of ageing. She went on to say that she doesn’t like retouched images of herself – it challenges her authenticity when people meet her in person and are shocked that she has wrinkles and looks older than pictures of her in magazines. This essentially compromises her brand image and integrity. On the contrary, by being one of the first to promote untouched images in Australia, Sarah did wonders for her brand image as woman and men alike from across the country applauded her for her ‘bravery’ and ‘honesty’.

More recently, in the last year we’ve also seen the introduction of a voluntary code of conduct that encourages the fashion and magazine industry to use unaltered images to promote a healthy and realistic body image to our public. The alternative for those not brave (or honest) enough, is to have a disclaimer letting us know when an image has been retouched.

In a fashion first, Make Up Forever, a French cosmetic brand has refrained from using retouched models in their HD Complexion advertising. This has become their unique selling point, with very few (or possibly any) others in the industry having the guts or smarts to do such a thing. With the tag line, ‘With HD Complexion, there is no need for retouching’, the campaign has earned them much free media attention and respect from audiences around the world.

It’s an exciting first for the cosmetic industry (and for the Make Up Forever brand), but one I doubt will catch on quickly, if at all. The industry has gotten away with it for so long, that I think it will take some time until we see more of it. The same brand have also recently put out an open casting call to be the next face of their untouched ad campaign. Ladies, you’ve got until February 1 to enter!

But back to the subject of honesty; what does it mean for us other brands? By creating and sticking to solid brand values, you are cementing what it is your brand stands for. Not staying true to your brand promise often means a huge loss in trust from your audience. Colleague, Michael Hughes pointed out a good example of this late last year when NAB failed to deliver on their brand promise; more give, less take and accompanying campaign, ‘You’re dumped’. Initially NAB’s actions were on brand. But with one ‘off brand’ move when they were the only of the ‘big four’ to fail passing on the Reserve Banks interest rate cut, the campaigns good work was almost all undone.

So how can you make sure that your brand stays honest?

1. Be clear about what your brand values are, both to internal and external stakeholders. If these are clear, then it’s easy for staff to honestly promote the brands values in the work they do and clear for the public to understand and trust.
2. Having brand values isn’t enough though. You actually need to deliver on your brand promise and offer something of value.
3. Ensure your marketing efforts are in line with what your brand stands for. Don’t say one thing and do another.
4. Be consistent at every touch point.

If you need advice on how to refresh your brand values or consolidate your brands communication to ensure brand honesty, we’d love to hear from you.

Sandy Muir
Director of Brand Projects
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