Posts Tagged ‘Branding’

As Internet marketers, we learn all about reducing stress and anxiety in the user experience. We put “VeriSign Trusted” certificates on our websites. We us HTTPS and put tiny lock icons all over the place to assure our visitors that their information is safe.

This isn’t a new concept. Businesses have always known that reassuring their customers and earning their trust is a critical component of the sales process.

Trust is why we our parents felt reassured when they saw the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on products from spray starch and dishwasher detergent to cake mixes and cereal. And trust is why we all feel a little more comfortable when we see that a company has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau.

But are we right to trust The Better Business Bureau? What exactly do their ratings mean, and how does a company get rated?

According to their own website…

BBB Accreditation

BBB has determined that COMPANY NAME meets BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB Accredited Businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public.

BBB accreditation does not mean that the business’ products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB, or that BBB has made a determination as to the business’ product quality or competency in performing services.

And from their explanation about grading:

BBB letter grades represent the BBB’s opinion of the business. The BBB grade is based on BBB file information about the business. In some cases, a business’ grade may be lowered if the BBB does not have sufficient information about the business despite BBB requests for that information from the business.

BBB assigns letter grades from A+ (highest) to F (lowest). In some cases, BBB will not grade the business (indicated by an NR, or “No Rating”) for reasons that include insufficient information about a business or ongoing review/update of the business’ file.

BBB Business Reviews generally explain the most significant factors that raised or lowered a business’ grade.

BBB grades are not a guarantee of a business’ reliability or performance, and BBB recommends that consumers consider a business’ grade in addition to all other available information about the business.

So, according to the Better Business Bureau itself, “BBB grades are not a guarantee of a business’ reliability or performance” and BBB accreditation “does not mean that the business’ products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB.”

So why should we care about a BBB rating? What is the actual value of being accredited by the Better Business Bureau?

Back in November 2010, ABC news reported on a scandal at the Los Angeles BBB, where a group of business owners accused the BBB of “running a “pay for play” scheme in which A+ ratings are awarded to those who pay membership fees, and F ratings used to punish those who don’t.” To prove the point, they paid $425 to the LA BBB and obtained an A- rating for a fictitious company they created called Hamas, named after the Middle Eastern terror group. The ABC News investigators even went to the organization with 2 small business owners and were told their grades of C could be raised to A+ if they paid $395 membership fees.

Picture of the Better Business Bureau A- rating for Hamas, a known terrorist organization

Photo courtesy of http://www.bbbroundup.com

Of course, you can’t find the BBB rating of Hamas anymore. And the BBB investigated the LA BBB for violations and actions they claimed did not follow their policies. On Dec. 22, ABC News reported that William Mitchell, the CEO of the LA Chapter of the BBB resigned amid that ongoing investigation by the national headquarters.

But if you think that the questionable ratings ended there, you would be sorely mistaken. Here are some other companies and their ratings as of 2/18/12:

  • Monsanto A+ (2 complaints closed within the last 3 years)
  • BP America, Inc. A+ (16 complaints closed in last 3 years, BBB knows of no significant government actions involving BP America, Inc.)
  • Charter Communications Inc. A+ (5527 complaints closed in last 3 years, 1488 closed in last 12 months)
  • Citi A- (6383 complaints closed in last 3 years, 2,539 in last 12 months, multiple government actions)

In case you don’t know who Charter Communications is, they were Business Insider’s Worst Company in America 2010. Monsanto is widely considered to be one of the worst environmental criminals in the US, and was the company upon which George Clooney’s movie, Michael Clayton, was based. Citigroup is, well, Citigroup, and just agreed to pay the U.S. $158 Million to settle mortgage fraud claims, which is in addition to the $1.8 Billion Citigroup has to pay the Justice Dept. as part of the $25 Billion mortgage loan settlement from the nations top lenders.

But for me, the real kicker is BP America’s A+ rating, with only 16 complaints in the last 3 years. 16 complaints? No significant government actions? For those of us with short memories, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank on April 20, 2010, triggering the worst oil spill in history. Since then, the Justice Dept. has investigated the spill, as has the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing a bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. No significant government action indeed.

Just to summarize: you can claim to be an organization that blows up buses full of innocent women and children and get an A+ rating from the BBB. You can engage in fraudulent business practices to the point that the U.S. government fines you nearly $2 Billion dollars and you can get an A- rating from the BBB. And you can poison the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the ecosystem and eviscerating the fishing and tourism industries of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and get an A+ rating from the BBB.

Can someone please explain to me why anybody should ever trust a BBB rating?

Let’s do a little roleplaying. Pretend you’re a kid. Say, 5 or 6. And you’ve been playing, and you’re thirsty, and mommy has just come back from shopping, so you ask mommy if you can have some grape juice, and she says yes.

So you go to the bag of groceries and find this bottle of Fabuloso. Looks like grape juice. Different brand than Welch’s, but mommy always buys different things depending on what’s on sale that week. You’re pretty sure you’ve heard the word on the label. You think it means really cool.

So you twist open the top… it’s hard, like some caps are, but you get it. And you pour some into your favorite sippy cup. And you only spill a little on the counter and a little more on the floor. And then you drink it… and it burns going down, and you cough, and your tummy feels like it’s going to explode… and then you pass out, vomit, and choke to death on your own vomit, all before mommy finishes unloading the car.

Well, that was fun. Luckily, it was just roleplaying. No 5 year old would ever drink cleaning fluid, right? Especially not when it looks like this…

Fabuloso multipurpose cleaner: brightly colored, fruity smelling, and packaged in bottles that look like soda or sports drinks

Pretty bottles all in a row. Delicioso? No, Fabuloso!

Oops. Yes, my friends, that is a picture I took today of a supermarket shelf full of Fabuloso in all its glory. What beautiful packaging! What clever branding! What a great idea! Let’s make our multi-purpose cleaner look like a sports drink or juice and smell like one too. Cleaning is yucky, but everybody likes Gatorade.

What the heck were they thinking? And by the way, if you don’t think anybody would actually mistake Fabuloso for a sports drink or juice, check out this article in The Roanoke Times from 2006 that cites research by a physicians group that documented 94 cases of accidental ingestion in the first 6 months of that year in Texas alone. According to the article, many of the cases were children under 6 years old.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing to me: Fabuloso, which is made in Mexico, has been on the market in the US looking pretty much just like this since 1997, and according to Colgate, meets the standards of the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission. (To be fair, they added a child-safety cap in September of 2006. And everyone knows how foolproof those are.)

Somebody at Colgate Palmolive made the choice to color bottles of Fabuloso like sodas or juice drinks. Somebody made the choice to package them in plastic bottles that look just like a sports drink. Somebody made the choice to make them smell fruity. And somebody made the choice to name them Fabuloso, which sounds absolutely… delicious.

So can someone please explain to me why didn’t someone else with half a brain and an ounce of common sense try and stop them?

Like many other marketers, I think candidate Obama’s marketing was exemplary. Which is why I was surprised at President-Elect Obama’s choice of bible for his swearing in.

I get the significance of Obama using the Lincoln Bible. I see the connection between the man who freed the slaves and the first black president. I understand that President Obama is inspired by Lincoln, that he’s a big fan, that he’s been reading up on Lincoln and even that his cabinet and administration is, like Lincoln’s, a team of rivals.

I just think there were better choices out there.

Sure, he got plenty of press coverage about his choice. But wouldn’t he have gotten just as much press if he’d used a bible owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Wouldn’t it also have been significant and symbolic?

But more importantly, now there will be no Obama Bible.

The Lincoln bible will always be the Lincoln Bible, no matter who uses it.  But if Obama had used a bible of Dr. King’s, there would forever be an Obama Bible.

Doesn’t the first black president of the United States deserve a bible of his own?

For the record, most presidents do not use other president’s bibles. Eisenhower used Washington’s, as did the first Bush. The second Bush wanted to, but inclement weather (or the hand of God?) intervened. Here’s an interesting list of presidential bibles compiled by the Architect of the Capital, who is “responsible to the Congress for preserving, maintaining and enhancing our national treasures.”

In marketing and advertising, we call what President Obama did “borrowed interest.” Instead of capitalizing on his own unique brand attributes, Obama cashed in on Lincoln’s.

Wouldn’t using Dr. King’s bible also be borrowed interest? Sure, for today.

But for tomorrow, for all the tomorrows to come, that bible would be the Obama Bible. When some future president-elect wanted to use that bible, they would refer to it as the Obama bible, used to swear in the first black president, which was originally owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, the greatest civil rights leader in American history.

That’s good branding…and good marketing.

Which is why I’m so perplexed. Everything about this campaign’s marketing has been so intentional, so purposeful, so savvy, that there must be a reason I’m missing.

So can someone (preferably named Barak) please explain to me why President Obama chose to borrow interest from someone else’s brand as opposed to firmly establishing his own?