Branding: Honesty is Truly the Best Policy

The lesson: Brands that engage in honest dialogue and respond to complaints will win kudos from social savvy consumers. In contrast, those that don’t come completely clean will lose brand equity.

The Super Bowl was a big disappointment all around this year. The game itself was uneventful and there were no ads that are likely to be remembered. None that we saw on the TV screen, anyways.

Newcastle Brown Ale didn’t put any money into Super Bowl sponsorship, but they did put money into some cheeky storyboards that portray what their Super Bowl ad would’ve been like. According to Newcastle, those ads have garnered a combined  9 million views, more than even some Super Bowl ads posted online. And they did so under the lauded “No Bollocks” moniker.

Newcastle is just one among several brands that have woken up to the value of being earnest. With the widespread advent of social media, people know right away when a brand is lying or full of it. So if you’re beating a family of seals or putting makeup on kittens, the Internet will know. The good news is that brands can get brownie points for coming out and telling the truth.

The most recent example of a company successfully using honesty in their branding comes from McDonald’s Canada. A widely circulated picture on the Internet made it appear that disgusting pink goop, which the industry calls mechanically separated chicken, was in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. McDonald’s responded by literally bringing us inside a plant where chicken was processed and explaining the process.

It’s not the most appetizing process, but it’s not as bad as the pink goop myth either.

Tragedy Strikes, Humanity Reigns

The tragedy yesterday was shocking for all Boston area natives. But for people who are also ad mavens in the making, like me, it was  depressing  how insensitive some national brands were on social media.

How hard would it be to have a human being monitoring a brand’s social media? It’s not like most of these brands can’t afford a social media expert or two. Besides, this tragedy happened when work was still in session across most of the USA, so someone should have been around to stop these promotional tweets from getting out in the first place.

Unfortunately, many brands had their Twitter set to automatically post and no one was able to stop their release. Other brands were able to pull their promotional tweets in time or delete them soon after.

It’s really sad when people are losing life and limb  and all you get from Burger King is a promotion for coffee.

In contrast to Burger King, fast food giants like Wendy’s and Taco Bell quickly deleted their  tweets.  But they weren’t able to stop them from going up in the first place. McDonald’s was one of the only major fast food chains to directly respond to the tragedy.

It isn’t all bad in ad land, though. Some New England based companies did more than respond– they acted with heart.  Local restaurant chains Fire+Ice and Joe’s American Bar & Grill passed out food to officers and emergency crew.

On the national level, Southwest Airlines was quick to accommodate people, giving homage to the age-old saying that actions speak louder than words.

This type of response shows the importance of the human element in branding. It’s a reminder that the best brands are driven by interaction and an emotional core–they aren’t mindless robots.

From Millennials to McDonald’s: Please Don’t Try So Hard


Dearest McDonald’s,

I write to you with the utmost reverence. For your name is known throughout all corners of the world (and even the non-corners).   However, you must remain vigilant, because it’s lonely at the top and easy to fall off.

You see, my friend, the world always remains in a state of flux. To stay on top you must always adapt. Even the best brands can easily fall from the top, that is, if they don’t keep up.

You must reach millennials—my generation— now or risk losing relevancy. You currently don’t even rank among our top 10 favorite restaurant chains.  What happened?  29% of all our trips to fast food consist of burger joints, so there are plenty of opportunities for you.

Perhaps it’s because my people want customization and you simply aren’t giving it to us. That’s partially why Subway remains more on our radar these days. I know you have released the McWrap. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. I still don’t feel like I can have it my way at McDonald’s. One wrap isn’t going to change that. You need to continue to introduce more products to remain competitive.

I also appreciate that you are trying to reach us through commercials like this Fish McBites one.  But most of them come across as flat. They don’t get us talking about the brand. And who can forget that whole #McDstories fiasco?  That’s certainly not the way to get us to engage with your brand.

Truth be told, it would add a whole new level of refreshment if you would stop pretending that you make the most delicious food on the planet. It’s not gourmet. No. Everyone knows it’s fast food. And what’s wrong with that? Sure, there’s no denying the research, my generation is a bit more health-conscious. But we still need a quick fix every once in a while.