Behind nearly every failed business venture, every failed plan, idea or execution, one is most likely to find, as the failure’s root cause, some form of broken agreement. A promise either inflated or faded. A contract subverted. Expectations shattered. Fallout. One or more involved parties declines to live up to their end of the bargain, and, once realized by the other side(s), the bond lays broken. To make matters shoddier, the offended side often perceives a dissolution of trust with the other as permission to cast aside their own accountability as a quasi-war-spoil, albeit unearned. These situations beckon a discussion around integrity – as a healthy brand-consumer relationship in a radically changing marketing landscape indeed depends upon it – and we can’t control much else.
Enter a time when brands clearly mind the eggshells beneath their feet, lest their youthful constituents collectively ghost them, and their product line or service, in digital-wallet perpetuity. It’s trial by social in some circles – and all particles in the marketing universe seem subject to its ever-changing code, and swift, cold rule. Worse yet – even blue-chip brands risk losing their trusted, loyal, base fans that weren’t particularly fickle in the first place – dare the former invade too-salty a subject matter with a less than PC-approved battle plan, or flash some conspicuously exposed ulterior motive. (AdAge unearthed the old Budweiser quagmire: “Recently Budweiser donated $100,000 to clean water. Then they spent $5,000,000 telling you about it.” –Oops.). And that’s setting aside current social sensitivities, which arguably appear at an all-time high with regards to inequalities of – or disagreements about – race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation, political alignment, religion, ad infinitum. Seemingly every human hot topic has hit a heat wave, reached a boiling point – and somehow resulted in a loosely-managed series of forest fires. Try cutting through that with a 15-second sword.
Integrity. Entertain, perhaps, the one thing over which any of us, either individually, or collectively, as a business or brand, have any true control or influence. Public reactions? Hypothesizing. (Possibly to fantastic effect and with prophetic accuracy – but no matter how educated and informed – it’s still speculating on a moving target.). What can we actually control in our dealings and communications? Integrity. And very little else. When we employ words, images, music, tension-release, as we do, all due-diligence with regards to intention remains subject to the blurring effect of viewers’ infinitely varying thoughts, perceptions and history. But we can control our integrity. And, interestingly enough – that’s readable – no matter where the audience finds their own current internal atmosphere.
What premise was Burger King’s moldy-Whopper experiment supposed to smuggle this past February? The time-tested idea that you position your flagship product in its most shining light? Far from it. It literally grossed people out. But two obvious concepts landed squarely.
- Real food rots.
- Something we know – but of which we apparently need reminders.
- Dull-blade attack capitalizing on the negative, viral press McDonald’s received from images of year-old burgers appearing still table-ready, as well as the (now nearly-retro) Super-Size Me series, and its disparaging health claims of yore. Stuff lasts, right?
- We don’t use preservatives. (no matter who hated the ad – viewers tested got this point loud and clear)
At least two slightly less obtuse premises quickly move through the mental minefield: Using our simplest algebraic algorithm, Burger King = Real Food. (Well, Duh. – but although this is perhaps a biiiiit of a stretch-a-roo – maybe we’ll be willing to settle for the “lesser of two evils at any given interstate rest stop”) One thing we can probably agree upon – if unpreserved food rots when it isn’t fresh, then not-rotting food presents a relatively decent sign of unpreserved freshness. Yes? So, carry the one, and perhaps it reduces to Burger King = Better, with a remainder of ‘maybe’. Irrelevant? Not entirely…
Far more importantly, though – the communicators want us to conclude that if Burger King is willing to drop its proverbial pants painstakingly HD-macro-filming their flagship sandwich rotting into oblivion – they’re willing to tell me the truth, no matter how difficult or embarrassing. That equates to a brand that can be trusted – as they’re projecting integrity about even perceivably negative press. (“Yes. I inhaled. Can we focus on the deficit now?” – Can you imagine our fair, past-POTUS’s legacy, were that his first approach to his ancient misgivings?) This manner of courage represents big-picture, long-game thinking with regards to integrity, and pays consumer dividends.
In Japan, businesses over 100 years old are referred to as ‘shinise’ – literally translated to ‘old shop’. Japan boasts 33,000 businesses over this age, and nearly 6,000 clocking over 200 years. Experts from Kyoto University suggest that some common elements include top-notch customer service, referred to as omotenashi – and a sustainable focus on anticipation of customer needs. We may think of Nintendo as a video-game giant emerging in the 1980s, but their origins were in manufacturing elements for a Japanese card game called hanafuda. They remained true to their integrous core, ‘helping create fun’, while technology changing around them simply modified what type of fun they were helping create. Founded? 1889.
In contrast to ethics – there’s no attempt here to suggest what’s morally, operationally, or, least of all, politically correct – rather to question – what can be conveyed as truthful representations of integrous intentions, solutions, and messaging? Yes – we want brand loyalty – but without integrity that loyalty may not be based upon brand trust – which is the main ingredient that produces long-term loyal consumers. We can’t control virus arrivals, social unrest, market fluctuations or weather patterns. We can, however, carry ourselves, and direct our clients with the integrity that produces customers who stay loyal to a supported brand, feel good about the brand and hopefully become ambassadors on some level as well. Either as brand or agency, integrity is a reliable vehicle that won’t sway with tumultuous conditions of economy or upheaval. It’s dependable. It’s precious. And it’s always worth cultivating.