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Big Orange Slide

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Should we have to read between the lines?

July 11, 2012 by Lily Bonney

Illustration by Nancy Ng

There’s more news from across the pond. Not the 2012 Olympics or the Queen’s Jubilee. This time it’s a local library in the Orkney Islands (an archipelago north of Scotland). If it reached 6,000 twitter followers, it promised a “fabulous prize” to all. The target was reached and the prize was revealed: the book Ten Years of Telly Addicts’ and a packet of instant food. Not surprisingly, the Twitteratti wasn’t impressed, dubbing this “the worst competition prize ever”. Maybe so. But in its defense, the library issued the following tweet:

“Some people suggesting our prize isn’t very good. It’s a book. We’re a Library. What did you want – a caravan?”

Fair point. The question then becomes – does the fault lie with the Twitter followers’ inflated expectations, or should the library have been more forthcoming with their prizing?

Full disclosure is rare in both social media and traditional advertising. Yet some companies, who have used the “honesty is the best policy” strategy have been über-successful.

Take Ronseal, a UK woodstain manufacturer. Their slogan: “It does exactly what it says on the tin.” Naturally, this slogan found phenomenal popularity, such that it has been incorporated into the English language as “a common idiomatic phrase… (meaning) anything that is at it appears or claims to be without further explanation needed”.

What about Buckley’s famous “It tastes awful. And it works”? Or Marmite, which has long branded its distinctive taste with the equally unforgettable slogan, “Love it or hate it.”  The spokesman for Cullman’s Liquidation, a small business selling used mobile homes in Alabama, eyeballs the camera and bellows “I’m going to tell it just like it is…” before making good on this promise by outlining how the homes are “…used. And some of them have stains”.

There’s disclosure for you. Global advertising magnate he is not, but the commercial has over three million hits on YouTube alone. I’m a big fan of Adidas’ “Runners are different” campaign, which highlights the strange yet absolutely truthful quirks of runners.  The female runner peeing on the side of the path during a run comes to mind.

Admittedly, full product disclosure doesn’t guarantee success. Chipotle’s ‘flaming toilet’ comes to mind.

But I think there is something to be said for playing the honesty card. It requires a brand characteristic that’s worth bringing to light, though. And brave clients who are willing to take risks. It’s not easy going straight to the heart of the matter.

Yet sometimes, honesty really can be the best policy. So why is it that more brands don’t take a tip from the Brits and be more transparent about the nature of their products or services? It may be frightening, but there’s something refreshing about encouraging people to judge a book by its cover?

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