The dinosaurs of our marketing past are now extinct. Today, traditional “spin doctoring” is being eviscerated by a more open and transparent approach to marketing aimed at building consumer trust in an increasingly complex digital world. Establishing an environment of open public feedback and response is the new evolution of marketing. A great example is McDonald’s “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign, launched in Canada last year.
The campaign allows consumers to ask any question via social media about the company’s food products. It was intended to create a healthier image of McDonald’s. In the short run, it invoked mass criticism as passionate responders condemned the fast food giant for its unhealthy ingredients and deceptive advertising. But they kept at it, and over time the campaign has resulted in increased consumer confidence and brand loyalty.
It works because you can literally ask anything at http://yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca/, as offensive as it may be to the keepers of the McDonald’s brand. All the questioner has to do is link her social media account to the question.
“We wouldn’t call it plain beef, but it sure is beef…” said McDonald’s when responding to a question about the authenticity of the food products.
Did you know McDonald’s French fries have 17 different ingredients including one that alters the color from its original gray to a golden yellow? The truth does not always reflect the best short-term interest of the brand but McDonald’s obviously believes it will help in the long run. They know consumers are still thirsty for honest conversation.
The special sauce in this approach is great content. McDonald’s spent $787.5 million dollars in marketing last year according to its 2012 annual report. A large part of this included the creation of well-crafted social media responses, consumer research, video production and advertisements consumed by its more than 69 million customers each day.
More companies are combining transparency and cause marketing to create urgency for change while also building customer loyalty. Coca-Cola’s recent approach to fighting obesity worldwide includes listing calorie counts prominently on the front of their cans and bottles. The world’s largest beverage company acknowledges that its own sugary drinks could be part of the growing childhood obesity epidemic.
However, some marketers are still trying to put one over on their audience with tactics designed to feign transparency and fool the consumer. A Snickers campaign, in an attempt to leverage star power to increase brand awareness, paid several celebs in the UK to tweet pictures of themselves eating Snickers bars. Problem: nobody disclosed that it was a paid endorsement. Of course, they were found out, and the court of public opinion viewed this as misleading and untrustworthy.
As advances in social media technology continue to make it difficult to discern real from not so real, marketers will have to work harder to authenticate their content online. With the rise of transparency marketing, fake blogging and astroturfing continue to infect the digital marketplace in an attempt to bamboozle even the savviest consumers. The fact is, winning loyal customers over time requires building trust, and when done right, transparency marketing can serve up some great results.