Forget ‘love brands’, think ‘hate brands’.

Cheating and lying doesn’t sell. When relationships are built on trust, screwing consumers and conning them is no way to win them over. So why don’t some brands get that?

As an industry our reputation isn’t made by the best but defined by the worse. So 2012 needs to be a year of stamping down on bad practice and a return to honest marketing.

Earlier this year a big storm developed between both BT, Sky and Virgin when Sky claimed that Virgin’s campaign “wrongly implies” that certain internet service providers “dishonestly deceive consumers”. The fact that internet service seem to over claim speed (the real speed is determined by your local BT exchange unless you are on an independent system) also had Ofcom and the ASA looking into ads.

According to research by Ofcom, average broadband speeds received by UK consumers are less than half the ‘up to’ rates advertised by some ISPs.

An equally dubious claim is the “unlimited downloads’,’ but hidden in the small print is a fair usage policy that means the unlimited download offer isn’t. In my books that a blatant lie, whatever way you try and defend it.

And then there’s claims by car companies about mileage to the gallon. Airlines with unbelievable ‘staring form’ offers. Cosmetic companies about anti-aging. And don’t get me started on greenwash claims made by so many companies. The list goes on.

We have the ASA for a reason, and thank goodness its powers have been extend to the web. We have various industry moral codes (all our trade bodies have them) and most agencies will behave decently. Not just because treating customers with respect is a far better way to engage them and sell to them but it generates less complaints – especially as the second most common reason for visiting a brand’s Facebook site is to complain.

Even though you’d expect marketers to over sell, lying is a step too far. The big question, given all the knowledge and experience we have as an industry, is  why do some brands treat consumers as a ‘mark’ (a term used by con men for a target)?

Just the other day I had one of those irritating pop up ads appear on my web page, so I clicked the X box to remove it but the cheaters had made it a click through.

Now was I suddenly thankful that I was be conned into going to a site I had no interest in? Was I suddenly friendly to the brand? Did I buy anything? Nope, I was very miffed. So forget ‘love brands’ this one’s now a ‘hate brand’. And no way will I ever do business with them. Plus I’ll probably tell all my friends not to trust them. Pity I can’t name and shame both them and their agency too (for legal reason I can’t name them here).

Worse, I’m seeing more of this ‘desperate marketing’ as one blogger called it. Desperate because obviously the company can’t sell any other way, probably because they don’t use experts or their product is rubbish. Or worse, use an idiot of an advisor – like the one I’ve seen ranting on one LinkedIn forum about how “creativity isn’t and never was important to marketing.” And it’s probably cowboys like that who resort to barrow boy tactics.

It’s a fact, if you can’t seduce your customer, raping them really isn’t going to work either.

A few years ago a friend who was a VP of a well know American credit card company asked my advice on a mailer they’d sent out disguised as a letter from the tax office. He was unsure about it, he was right to be because it had a terrible response rate and they got a lot of customer complaints.

Think about it, you see a plain official looking envelope on your doorstep and what do you feel? Joy? Hardly. You feel dread! Anxiety! Fear even!

You finally open it to find it’s a 0% credit card promotion. How do you feel? Happy it wasn’t a tax demand? No, very miffed. Even angry. A classic case of desperate marketing that actually backfired on the brand very badly. And the marketing director and agency too.

Is that any way to try and start a relationship? My advice was he should fire his marketing director and his agency.

A tip to any business is whose agency is advocating con tactics – avoid them. Whatever their reason, it’s brand suicide.

Yet there are agencies that are doing just that that in the digital space because there seems to be more and more desperate ads trying to trick you on line – probably because response rates are falling. It’s no wonder more and more people are downloading AdBlock Plus software to block all ads. All my son’s mates at college have it.

If you want better results the evidence is there – be more relevant (understand what you audience really want) and be more creative (research has proven this is the best way to engage them). It’s not rocket science, it’s just common sense.

As an industry our reputation isn’t made by the best but defined by the worse. So 2012 needs to be a year of stamping down on bad practice and a return to honest ads.



    I don’t understand what some marketing directors are thinking? Why would you think intruding into someone’s personal space and deceiving them is even slightly effective or intelligent? Brands are built on trust so why start with zero trust? No wonder the average marketing director only lasts 2 years!

  • Chris Arnold

    Yep. amazes me too. I guess some people are honest, decent types but there are always a small number of dishonest people around who live that way. That’s why I think we need to weed them out because it’s the bad apples that let the whole industry down.


    Maybe we should have qualifications like lawyers and doctors.

  • Chris Arnold

    When I was Chairman of the Agencies Council I proposed just that – both clients and agencies should be professionally qualified. But, alas, there are also lots of bad apple doctors and lawyers.


    How do theses people get jobs?

  • Chris Arnold

    Easy. Many companies don’t treat marketing seriously so hire any old hack. One supermarket use to call their marketing dpt the “fluffies”. One well know computer brand used the marketing dpt as an exit place for dumb employees. A girl applying for a receptionist job in a well know insurance company got given a marketing job just because she’d  done media studies and give a £2m budget to manage. A air hostess hurt her ankle, unable to work she was put in the airlines marketing dpt.  Of top 500 companies hardly any have a marketing director on the board. That says a lot.



  • Chris Arnold