written by: Mak Suet Yee, Shirley

There are 3 common reactions from brands when it comes to negative publicity. They lie, they filter out the gossip, and they pretend the problems never exist. Can public relations and advertising stay honest with consumers?
Honesty in Public Relations: Dealing with Doubts

McDonald’s in the U.S. has imported a 2012 YouTube campaign “Our Food, Your Questions” originated from Canada and launched it in 2014 to answer any questions related to its food: How the food is prepared? What ingredients are used? Where is the meat from? [1]



McDonald’s has been questioned on food safety issues for years. The campaign did address people’s doubts while engaging with customers and received over 42,000 questions. The videos have earned over 31M views on YouTube and gained a significant increase of 60% in brand trust. [3]

Another famous fast food chain, Domino admitted the pizza is not perfect and shared how they struggled and made a better recipe in a documentary video, gaining customers trust back and profits up to 16% of the year. [4]
Honesty in Copywriting: “World’s Worst Hotel”

Another way to demonstrate honesty in marketing communication is the brand telling little secrets to audience. Hans Brinker Budget Hotel claims itself as “the world’s worst hotel” and warns the guests of its “poor services and facilities” in ads, making the hotel stand out among competitors with its rise in ranking to 44th of 220 hostels in the local areas. [5]



Why Customers still Buy your Product/Service despite Imperfections
Admitting imperfections is never easy. Honesty is a great psychological selling tool and more compelling than other appeals. [7] It could build trust if brand marketers are able to articulate the message as to why audience should still engage with the brand. What McDonalds and Domino are trying to offer consumers are the sense of transparency of products and commitment to improve its quality, making the brands more believable and worth trusting so as to prevent further crisis. Of course, the impact depends very much on insightful understanding of the target audience. Backpackers who prefer low-budget accommodation would appreciate the honest claims of the budget hotel.

Half-Truth Is Still A Lie. You Are What You Hide.
However, not all cases are successful. One example is the campaign from an Australian brewer, Lion. The campaign headline reads, “Your favoutite beer are on average 99.9% sugar free” ( “Beer: The Beautiful Truth”) [8] . The ad intends to reveal to consumers about the “truth” of its low-in-sugar ingredients and claims drinking beer could be regarded as “healthy drinking”. Yet, the ad is widely criticized for shifting people attention away from its impact of alcohol consumption and its risk for disease.

Figure 5 Lion, an Australian beverage brand launched “Beer:The Beautiful Truth

Pick The Right Truth
To play safe with honest advertising, marketers should choose the right piece of fact and never embellish things under the claim of truth-telling. Audience may not be intrigued by all pieces of truth. They just want the illusion of truth and the belief of being told and respected. Show them what they want to see and never tell lies, anymore.

[1] Our food. Your questions. :: McDonalds.ca. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca/

[2] M. (2012, June 19). Behind the scenes at a McDonald’s photo shoot. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSd0keSj2W8

[3] Jarboe, G. (2016, May 10). McDonald’s “Our Food, Your Questions” Video Campaign is Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from http://tubularinsights.com/mcdonalds-our-food-your-questions-video-campaign/

[4] Lutz, A. (2014, October 23). Domino’s Is Suddenly The World’s Hottest Pizza Chain. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/dominos-turnaround-story-2014-10

[5] Reporter, D. M. (2012, November 15). Proud to be the world’s worst hotel: £18-a-night hostel which boasts about filthy rooms and tells guests to use the curtains instead of towels. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2232828/Worlds-worst-hotel-warns-visitors-sue-Hans-Brinker-Amsterdam-boasts-filthy-rooms.html

[6] KK : Hans Brinker. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2017, from http://www.kesselskramer.com/communication/projects/hans-brinker

[7] Sugarman, J. (2007). The Adweek copywriting handbook: the ultimate guide to writing powerful advertising and marketing copy from one of Americas top copywriters.

[8] Green, R. (2015, November 2). Lion launches second phase of its ‘Beer the Beautiful Truth’ category initiative via BMF. Retrieved January 03, 2018, from http://www.campaignbrief.com/2015/11/lion-launches-second-phase-of.html