Not so “powerful” after all

This week saw the Therapeutic Goods Complaints Resolution Panel provide a slap on the wrist to Power Balance – makers of wristbands popular with AFL stars and the recipient of millions of dollars of sales worldwide.

The complaint was lodged after what were considered misleading claims about the results delivered by the bands were advertised on their website. They have been given a directive to remove the claims and post a retraction on their website by next week.

I don’t know one way or another whether the Power Balance bands work, but to me they are just another in a long line of businesses making promises they either can’t or won’t keep. A visit to the Power Balance website finds the “what is Power Balance” section posted with “coming soon” so I can’t comment on specifics of the offending statements.

It will be interesting to see what the new content brings and what, if any, impact this will have on the external perception of their brand (I hold no illusions that it will alter the internal reality one iota).

The bigger question is whether it will bring a greater consciousness about the promises they are making and force them to look beyond the hype to structure messages that convey the potential benefits, without the implied promise of results.

What can others learn from Power Balance’s troubles? Top of the list for me would be to watch what you promise. Whether there is a formal watchdog body for your industry or not, it is never a good thing to be labelled a teller of untruths. Reputations built over years can evaporate quickly under that type of scrutiny.

The biggest question mark out of this whole story is why more companies aren’t held accountable for untrue or misleading marketing?

Many skate by under the benevolent cover of the asterisk, and it would be interesting to see exactly what a change to legislation (or new legislative standards in place of current voluntary codes) might mean to those practices.

In general I think people have such low expectations of businesses really keeping the promises they make, that they get to slide by on that ambivalence. The trouble is, in the race to that particular bottom everyone loses, as even brands that do hold water suffer from skepticism born of other experiences.

In more positive news on the promises front, Tiger Airways announced on Friday that it has “modified some website processes that might have been ‘misunderstood’ by consumers…”. Managing Director Crawford Rix says, ”We need to do the education job a bit better. In fact, all low-cost airlines need to educate the consumer better about what the offer is.”

I would take that a bit further and say it is not just about education, rather, understanding that as a low-cost airline/telco/bank/neighborhood dry cleaner, you are not just making an “offer” but making a promise. However, I’ll take it as a step in the right direction – awareness that there is a problem is a start!

Do you know companies that are making promises they can keep and keeping the promises they make? I’d love to hear about them.

See you next week.

Michel Hogan is a Brand Advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations recognise who they are and align that with what they do and say, to build more authentic and sustainable brands. She also publishes the Brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment.


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