Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of running a successful business is drawing positive consumer attention and creating conversions. One seeks to promote that they are there, that they provide valuable products or services, and that they are a cut above the competition with their online brand reputation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this–in fact it’s essential to one’s success–that is, unless one steps over the line with puffery.
Brand Reputation Management
Reputation management has a lot to do with helping a brand communicate effectively to consumers so that consumers understand the brand and what they have to offer. Unfortunately, it is commonly believed that in order to be successful in attracting positive attention, a brand has to engage in some degree of puffery. This promotional exaggeration of who one truly is or of what one can deliver may seem innocent enough–after all, one is constantly bombarded by advertisements that promise that a certain product or service is “the most amazing in the world” or some such similar thing. It is certainly true that puffery may attract consumer attention. However, it can also harm a brand’s reputation.
Many consumers recognize puffery for what it is: attention-seeking promotional exaggerations that shouldn’t be given much weight. In fact, some large brands use puffery regularly in their marketing, and sometimes even in their slogans. The fact that puffery has been used for a long time and continues to be used liberally today indicates how workable it can be. Unfortunately, it can also lead to both consumer discontent and even legal issues that adversely affect a brand’s reputation.
While puffery is legal, false advertising is decidedly illegal–and there is a very fine line between the two, as some companies have learned quite painfully. For example, in 2014 Red Bull lost a thirteen million dollar class action lawsuit when it was argued that the claim their drink had the ability to improve concentration and reaction was scientifically unprovable. This may be an example of outright false advertising, or it may very well be a case of puffery that simply went too far. The trouble is that for Red Bull, and every other brand, there is actually no clear delineation of what is acceptable puffery and what is puffery gone too far.
One of the main problems that a brand will face when using puffery is that someone may very well be looking for the exact results that the brand claims they can achieve, and is unaware of the fact that they are buying into some degree of puffery. Even if the claim is within the bounds of legal puffery, there is no arguing that the consumer will be disappointed when the brand’s products or services fail to actually deliver those results. One bad review can easily spread like wildfire over the internet, effectively and sometimes even permanently damaging the brand’s reputation. Furthermore, that consumer–and every other consumer he reaches and who believes him–will be unlikely to seriously consider anything the brand has to say in the future, as their credibility has been effectively ruined.
Even where consumers recognize puffery for what it is, a brand’s reputation can still suffer because its advertising has, to some degree, become ineffective. Consumers may be wary about whether other claims or statements made by the brand are actually true, and a quick internet search can provide them with the answers they seek. Or, rather than spending the time to find out they may just go elsewhere.
Since puffery is misleading anyway and there is no telling what sort of legal issues may arise as a result of using puffery, it is better for a brand’s reputation if they just stay away from it altogether.