Damage Control: Lies Never Prosper

How can public relations practitioners regain consumers’ trust when a brand has used deceptive advertising? To discover the answer I read an academic journal article for my public relations class. I selected the following article:

Twomey, K. L., Knight, J. G, & McNeill, L. S. (2011). Damage control: Limiting the fall-out from deceptive advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 51(2), 394-403. doi:10.2501/jar-51-2-394-403

GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company pleaded guilty at the Auckland, New Zealand District Court for using misleading advertising in 2007. The Ribena blackcurrant fruit drink produced by GSK was advertised as having four times the vitamin C of oranges. It, in fact, contained less than one-third of the claimed amount.

GSK faced 15 representative charges from the Commerce Commissions for stating deceiving facts on the Ribena product. GSK responded by removing the false message from all packaging, as well as producing a 60-second television apology.

This article uses the GSK incident to research how effective advertising companies’ apologies are at regaining consumers’ trust and if it is possible at all.

The research method used in this study was face-to-face interviews. Seven chief grocery buyers of supermarkets and 207 in-store shoppers (160 in Auckland and 47 in Dunedin) were interviewed in New Zealand.

An equal number of females and males who were older than 17 participated in the interviews during various hours of the day over a two-week period. This ensured a diverse representation of the New Zealand population. Respondents were given open-ended questions to encourage sincere answers and opinions.

The results led to multiple conclusions:

Communicate to the chief grocery buyers before the general public in a time of crisis. It is the buyers who need to be convinced a brand has apologized because they are the ones who dictate which products make it to the shelf and which ones don’t.

Apologize authentically to the general public and chief buyers. When a company makes excuses and attempts to justify its reasons for deception, sincerity is lost. Little or none of the apology will be accepted once this occurs.

Mistrust extends beyond product and can damage an entire brand’s name. The reputation of a product is directly linked to its brand. Dishonesty and misleading facts will not improve sales and brand image but instead will only hurt them.

To avoid damage control, honest and ethical business practices must be enforced in the first place.

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About Janae

Janae Fuston is a University of Oregon student who is just trying to improve upon herself as a writer/ photographer/ designer/ communicator. She hopes that the skills she has right now will someday bloom into something much (much) more.
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