Reputation Management: You’re Doing It Wrong
The people behind high fructose corn syrup want you to know that despite what you’ve heard, they’re not really the devil, nor do they sacrifice babies. As long as you consume the stuff in moderation, you probably won’t die, become really fat or sprout an extra head. Or at least that’s what they say. I’m not totally convinced yet.
You may have noticed that there were some odd ads taking over your television this weekend. Ads featuring robot-like “people” eerily stating that high fructose corn syrup isn’t bad. It’s made from corn and okay in moderation. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent just because you give your kid some random pink stuff. Suddenly it’s like the Cult of Fructose radiating out of your television set.
I’m serious. Watch one of their ads:
Kind of creepy, right? Totally. Watching that commercial gives me a skeevy feeling, like someone is about to call me into the shadows to offer me a bite of their strawberry ice pop. And it’ll only take that one bite and I’ll be hooked for life. Before you know it I’ll be stealing money from Bruce Clay, Inc. in order to support my high fructose corn syrup addiction. In six months I’ll be found living under a bridge with ice pops stuck to my face. [Would you like a frosting shot? --Susan]
Send help! Or at least better advertising.
We all know that high fructose corn syrup is in need of some reputation management. I don’t know what I’ve heard, just that I’m not supposed to eat anything that contains it. It’s being blamed for all that ails us. It’s clear that it needs a brand makeover; however, you can’t end a bad brand image without presenting a new one. You need to give us a new message to hold on to and these ads don’t do that, or at least they don’t give off a positive one. And yes, I’m saying that “it’s okay in moderation” is not an adequate brand message. They say the same thing about cigarettes. We’re not buying that those are healthy either.
The Corn Refiners Association (who even knew!) were smart to launch a campaign to defend their product. I don’t know anything about the CRA, but it’s probably pretty important to them that parents aren’t afraid to feed the product their kids. However, if they’re trying to make high fructose corn syrup less scary, they’re totally doing it wrong.
If you watch either of the two ads that are currently running, you’ll see that they don’t accomplish anything. I don’t even know if the CRA knows what it’s trying to accomplish. They don’t seem to have a brand image worked out. Are you trying to make your product appear more friendly and less dangerous? If so, you failed. Are you trying to get people excited about the benefits and yumminess of high fructose corn syrup? If so, again, you failed. The brand message of “okay in moderation” is no better than saying “it may not kill you this time”. That’s not what people want to hear. You need to associate something good and friendly and fun with your product.
Also, if you’re going to create ads to combat what “people have heard” about your product, you may want to mention what that is. It’s hard to fight something you’re too afraid to mention. You also can’t dispel our fears if we don’t know which fear you’re trying to overwrite.
Everything is marketable. You can market that high fructose corn syrup isn’t the leading cause of making you fat and unattractive, but you have to present a clear, more product-friendly brand message. These ads don’t do that. They simply make high fructose corn syrup connoisseurs look creepy and uptight, which is only half a notch up from thinking they’re all about to die. The ads aren’t engaging, they’re a total turn off.
*On a side note, casting someone who once played Buffy Summers’ demonic college roommate to say that your product isn’t, you know, evil may not have been wise. Just saying. [I feel like such a bad geek for not recognizing her. The shame, it burns. --Susan]