Monday, May 11, 2020

Brands, Ethics and Authenticity



I have written a lot about how brands can tap into deep attitudes, values, hopes, fears and other emotions to sell their products and services. Compared to selling attributes, features or functional benefits, this works extraordinarily well. Having said that, far too many brands have as their foundations these deep emotional promises, promises that are hollow because the brands' products and services don't actually deliver what is promised except in the mind. I have come to realize how unethical this is. Yes, it is very powerful to sell dreams, but what if the dreams are false dreams?

I will use one example to drive this point home - Marlboro. Marlboro has a 40% share of the tobacco market, far more than twice the share of the next brand, Newport. It has been an extraordinarily successful brand. What does Marlboro sell? Rugged freedom. Independence. Self-sufficiency. Adventure. The Wild West. The simpler times of a black and white world where right is right and wrong is wrong. What does it deliver? Addiction to a substance that causes cancer and death. Does this aid in real freedom? Yes, one is free to be as self destructive as he or she wants to be in a free society, but is this the type of freedom the brand purchaser is really seeking?

As marketers, if we have consciences, we must check our urges to create "knock it out of the park" marketing campaigns if those campaigns deliver on powerful but hollow claims, especially if our brands' products are harmful to one's health or society as a whole. We must be better than that. It may be more difficult to develop equally compelling campaigns that are ethical and authentic, but ultimately, we will have not harmed anyone. That will help us sleep better at night. And it will help make the world a better, not worse, place.

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