Brand honesty and advertising

This is the season for smartphone launches. Tech and consumer blogs are racing to compare the iPhone 5 side-by-side with the new Nokia Lumia 920. Yet the Lumia – widely received with somewhat baffled acclaim – has been hampered by a bungled launch and the quick-spreading news of its ‘misleading’ promotional video.

One of the flagship features of the Lumia 920 is the OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) technology of its video camera. This feature was promoted in a film that purported to show the smooth, clear footage that the Lumia could create, in contrast to the wobbly film of the ‘average’ phone camera. But a sharp-eyed viewer noticed the reflection of a cameraman wielding large, professional equipment in a window. It was clear that the footage hadn’t actually been filmed on a Lumia, and there was no disclaimer to admit this.

Are there lessons to learn about brand integrity and advertorial honesty from Nokia’s bumpy ride?

Let’s be honest… It’s increasingly difficult to keep discrepancies quiet

Reputations are hard to build and quick to lose. Twitter was soon full of news of the ‘misleading’ advert and sarcastic comments about the Nokia launch. It was hardly the sparkling hype that they were presumably hoping for, and overshadowed the product itself.

Of course, the best way to counter this is not to be as open and genuine as possible in the first place. Think about your advertising and promotional materials – even if these are just leaflets, posters, and website claims rather than large-scale brand launches – and put yourself in the position of a reader or consumer. Even if you don’t overtly state something, would it be fair to say that you’ve strongly led the viewer or reader to believe something? Get others to take a look for a fresh perspective, and ask them the conclusions that they draw from your advertising.

Reputational value is extremely important, and something that you should guard jealously. In an article musing on whether advertising is becoming more honest, Danny Turnbull notes that “The increased proliferation of social media sites places unparalleled power into the hands of consumers […] enabling them to damage a brand’s reputation in seconds” (Forbes gyro). Nokia stands as a stark warning for companies big and small.

If things aren’t quite as good as they look, at least write a disclaimer

Nokia apparently has an ethics officer investigating how a disclaimer was omitted from the film. We’re all used to seeing small print on cosmetics adverts telling us that the jumbo-jet-wing-span of the model’s eyelashes hasn’t actually been created by the advertised mascara but by lash extensions. Really, if you have a great product that you believe in, you shouldn’t feel the need to cheat to boost appearance. Although a disclaimer is better than no acknowledgement at all, this small print also undermines the very product that is being promoted; if it’s so good, why not use the real thing? The obvious conclusion is that you haven’t done so because the product isn’t up to the job. Not a great advert.

Users have said that the Lumia’s OIS really is rather good. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just use the technology to film the footage in the first place and avoid all the hoo-ha. The spokesperson who issued the apology expressed regret that the Lumia hadn’t been used for promotional video material ‘yet’.

If all else fails, apologise quickly

If, like Nokia, you didn’t manage to do either of the above, then at least make sure you say sorry promptly. Finally it’s time for Nokia to provide a positive example. They responded to the accusations quickly, using a blog post to ‘apologize for the confusion’ that they created by not making it clear that this was a ‘representation’ of the camera rather than the real thing.

Use the same platforms that spread the bad news about your brand to also get your own voice heard. It’s important to get the tone right here. Angry, defensive, or full of excuses won’t cut it. Be humble but not grovelling or sycophantic. Explain what happened and why and apologise fully. Emphasise the merits of the product and try to redirect the conversation.

Nokia is presumably madly ramping up marketing tactics to counter their share price slump and advertising faux pas, and good reviews and a healthy smattering of the #switchtolumia hashtag on Twitter seem to show the tide turning.

So, is honesty always the best policy?

Not that we would ever support a dishonest approach to advertising, but… there have been wry observations that the Nokia Lumia video has been viewed many more times than most promotional videos, as a result of all the coverage. People sitting at desks have sat with fingers hovering, ready to pause the film at the right moment to catch the cameraman in the reflection.

It’s certainly been talked about; does the old cliche ‘any press is good press’ have any merit?