Over the past year or so, we have all become familiar with the idea of “fake news.” Outlandish stories are popping up in our social media feeds, from disreputable sources, and clouding our view of what is true and false. However, while the content of these stories is often fabricated or embellished, the impact that they have on consumer perceptions is real, and can be incredibly damaging.
Strong brands occupy their privileged space because they are built on specific messages, which are instantly recognizable to the masses. How people feel about Coca-Cola, Nike, BMW, Tim Horton’s, and Roots, is driven by the agency work put into building their brands. When you have worked extremely hard to create a strong brand, the last thing you want is to be associated with something negative, and especially something negative and false. Here are a few ways to help protect your brand from fakes news.
Build Your Brand Consistency
It’s everyone’s responsibility to be diligent in separating genuine news from click bait, propaganda, and lies, and brand consistency is crucial for this. It is very rare that something posted by a strong brand is accused of being fake news, because strong brands put forth an identity that people immediately recognize, and anything that clashes with this brand identity can be easily sniffed out. These brands understand this and act accordingly.
- In the best-case scenario, this means that any content put out by a brand is met without resistance from most readers or viewers, which can help to encourage constructive discussion.
- An example of the worst case can be seen with the Pepsi/Kendall Jenner fiasco, where Pepsi tried to take politics and make it apolitical, which offended almost everyone.
- A balancing act of strong brand messaging and objectivity can help media consumers weed out fake news more easily, which will ensure the safety of your brand in the event of a false story about it.
Leverage Brand Visibility
Brands are some of the most visible things in our society, and this visibility, even on small or local scales, can be used to protect your brand against the fake news onslaught.
- Whether through traditional ad campaigns on TV or billboards or through more innovative digital and social media work, all of the channels brands have access to are powerful tools for ensuring that your messaging reaches people correctly and appropriately.
- Using this space to show positive images and messages is an excellent way to inspire consumer confidence, build brand trust, and reassure people.
The combination of consistency and visibility will allow your brand to build up credibility with your target market, which will train them to be able to separate slanderous fake news from your legitimate marketing materials. Leveraging your visibility will also ensure that your messaging is more prevalent than whatever false stories may arise. This links directly into our next point: creating your own content.
Control Your Own Message
Another way brands can protect themselves against fake news is to be proactive in making their message available to the public. Two of the main sources of misinformation in the fake news age are hearsay and people repeating headlines for articles that they didn’t read. Being unfairly labeled as fake news can be devastating to the credibility your brand has built up, so you can’t leave it up to the discernment of the public or other media outlets. Controlling your own message, by creating your own content and having an active online presence, will allow the authenticity of your message to shine through. This way, people will be more likely to pick up on inconsistencies that appear from other sources, protecting your brand’s credibility. A few possible ways to achieve this are:
- An active, authentic, and enthusiastic social media program
- A blog on your company website
- Sponsored content articles through traditional or online media publications
Evolution Fresh Drinks: A Brief Case Study
Evolution Fresh Drinks sells cold-pressed juices at Starbucks, with a brand based around the “pursuit of the authentic juice experience.” Their messaging promotes health, happiness, and freshness. However, no brand, however wholesome, is safe from social media rumours.
A report started circulating on Facebook in January 2017, claiming that the juices “are poison,” and that the message should be immediately sent to family and friends because “the drink is already in Nigeria.” The message concluded with a phrase that perfectly captures both the spirit and the issue of fake news: “I don’t know if it’s true, passing it on just in case.”
This is precisely the kind of report that brands fear: vague and devastating. There was no clear source of the report, and people sharing it felt like they were doing the right thing in the name of public safety. Additionally, the associations with Nigeria played on the paranoia of some North American consumers towards foreign countries, even though there is nothing specifically negative about the product being available in Nigeria.
So how did Evolution Fresh combat these allegations?
The response consisted of two protective measures. A public statement was given, which provided hard facts repudiating the claims in the post. It stated that Evolution Fresh had no recent recalls, no reports of anyone becoming sick, and that the company has never sold/manufactured in, or been associated with, Nigeria. This public statement worked to disprove the false claims, but another, equally important component helped prevent any lasting damage.
Evolution Fresh has cultivated a strong brand in its 30+-year history, under several names. This brand identity includes openness about their commitment to the freshest and healthiest products, as well as a transparency about their process. People recognize Evolution Fresh as a premium brand, and the associations with health and Starbucks help to mitigate the concerns brought about by the false report.
Fake news, and the industry of trafficking in it has become a major issue for many organizations, and the problem seems like it is here to stay. You can protect your brand by creating a consistent and highly visible brand identity, and extending this across your media channels by creating your own content.
Kimberley Pickett is Principal and Creative Director for KIMBO Design. She can be reached at @KimboDesign.