Truth or Consequences

This guest post comes from frequent contributor Perry Seelert the strategic partner of united* dsn, a design consultancy based in New York and San Francisco. Perry is frequently controversial and always thought provoking.

Truth or Consequences
There are plenty of reasons why consumers have a healthy dose of skepticism today, and a lot of it is fueled by more marketing exaggeration and puffery than ever. Products that over promise, taglines that overreach and “oneupsmanship” that doesn’t pass the smell test. For many marketers, pursuing a strategy of authenticity, raw honesty and truth in your brand storytelling is much more emotionally engaging, and for private brands a way of better countering the CPGs.

In the transparent world we live in today, where almost every fact is discoverable, it is amazing how many people and CPGs still try to twist the truth on what a product delivers and the story of their brand. Scott Thompson was the short-lived CEO at Yahoo, the latest exaggerator getting caught, for claiming a computer science degree on his resume he never attained. Cheerios in the CPG world through visual symbology (the heart-shaped cereal bowl) and through “lowering cholesterol” front-of-pack claims tries to own heart-healthiness, but this has never seemed credible. Many eco-friendly efforts like Huggies “Pure & Natural” diapers feel like classic cases of green washing, and the consumer is sick of it. Stay true, be real and don’t fall into the trap of puffery the consumer doesn’t believe.

Many retailers and CPGs feel like they have to have a tagline to be a fully-functioning brand, but more often than not it actually detracts from their message by aspiring too far. Just take the repetition and grandiose nature of the following: Panasonic is “ideas for life”, Safeway is “ingredients for life”, GNC is “live well”, and LG is “life’s good”. If you feel like a tagline is a good distillation of your brand, make sure it is unique for starters, but ensure that it is believable too. Taglines that are a call to action often fundamentally work better (Apple’s “think different” and Nike’s “just do it”.), as they are both aspirational and credible.

1, 2 or 3
Be ridiculously good at clarifying one thing that makes you different, whether that is a product or service attribute. Depending on the brand, you might be able to claim a subordinate attribute or two, but don’t go beyond that hierarchy as a rule of thumb. Many CPGs try to claim way too much, and the consumer gets lost in the claims and the clutter. Private brands often try to do the same. Distill ruthlessly and you will be much better received and believable.

5 Hour Energy transformed the energy category when it came on to the market, shaking the leadership of Red Bull by introducing the idea of a sustained, crash-free experience. But 6 Hour Power, 7 Hour Energy and yes, 8 Hour Energy by a company called Mr. Energy? Seems like it might be a powerful strategy to claim one additional hour of benefit, but to the consumer these are copycat brands all the way. Take this to the world of private brand, and there is an analogy to be drawn as it applies to NBE tiering strategies.

In the game show “Truth Of Consequences” the consequence was always an embarrassing stunt of some sort, but in the world of national/private brands the consequence of exaggeration is a lack of consumer credibility in your brand story. Veer towards more ownable, credible language in your marketing overall and you will be positioning yourself in line with the consumer of the future and the transparent world that is unavoidable.

Perry Seelert is strategic partner of united* dsn, a design consultancy based in New York and San Francisco. To contact Perry: or 917.267.2857