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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

The authority to publish

A brand must be a story-doer as well as a storyteller

Two years ago Coca-Cola launched a new marketing initiative called 'Content 2020'. In a very cute and erudite animation, the product's marketers explained how they were evolving their communications approach by moving from 'creative excellence to content excellence.

As part of this shift from design to content, they announced:

"Through the stories we tell, we will provoke conversations and earn a disproportionate share of popular culture."

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola started the switch to content all over the world, spinning stories of optimism, kindness and happiness in music videos, mini-documentaries, private moments caught on surveillance cameras and many other forms. While the move to storytelling was undoubtedly the right choice for Coca-Cola to make, one of their recent pieces of communication (see video below or on YouTube) —'based on hundreds of stories' in their words — has broken one of the cardinal rules of brand storytelling: the need to have the 'authority to publish'.

Like many brands today, Coca-Cola has seen the need to have a position on health. Under attack from health advocates all over the world as an accused provider of empty calories that contribute to the obesity epidemic, the company understands that stories are a great way to approach the emotive subject of health, fitness and longevity. But the Coca-Cola has ignored the simple truth that the brand telling those stories must earn the right to tell them.

The message of Coca-Cola's 'live like grandpa' ad — move more, eat well, take it easy — is valid for us to hear and, indeed, the perspective that men today can learn from the experiences and lifestyles of their grandfathers is a charming one. But to be hearing this from Coca-Cola is a step too far. There is no doubt that a brand like Coca-Cola needs to have a point of view with regards the global issue of obesity. But it is simply misguided for such a company to ignore responsibility for the part they themselves play in this epidemic while trying to imply that the blame can be placed on a lack of exercise, increased portions sizes and microwave meals.

Consumer advocates, media critics, nutrition experts and others have reacted negatively to the ads in which Coca-Cola claims to be an ally in the fight for healthier diets and lifestyles. For many, it just doesn't ring true.

Coca-Cola is not alone in publishing content without having the authority to do so, however. Staying in the health field, a great example from a few years back is that of Summers Eve, a feminine hygiene product whose advertorial was picked up by the Huffington Post.

Fleet laboratories, the makers of Summer's Eve, made the mistake of thinking that becoming synonymous with female confidence was as easy as writing tips for women facing stressful situations – such as asking for a raise. In actual fact, not only did women find the piece offensive, but quite understandably, they couldn't see any link whatsoever between the brand and the story it was telling. Feminine hygiene doesn't lead to raises anymore than sugary soft drinks combat obesity. So the public howled at Summer's Eve in a swift, fierce backlash across social media.

Storytelling is indeed a powerful mechanism that brands should be using in their health discussions, but if brands don't have the authority to tell that story or if the story isn't true and authentic, then their audience simply won't listen. The stories a brand tells must reflect a truth...the storyteller must also be a story do-er. 

The power of the social web has forced today's brands to look at themselves more closely than ever before. Today's audiences can smell insincerity a mile off and masses of self-appointed online fact checkers will very quickly find the truth themselves if the story the brand is telling doesn't appear authentic or accurate.

The moral of these social lessons seems clear: brands must change what they do before they change what they say or the way that they're saying it. 

That's the only way to truly have the authority to publish.

Article by
Nick Dutnall

is head of health at Aesop. You can email him

26th November 2013

From: Marketing

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