In This Information Age, You Better Serve Your Market The Truth

I never really got the whole SIGG water bottle thing.  Oh they looked cool and everything, but since I drink a decent amount of coffee, it seemed more sustainable (and about thirty bucks cheaper) just to use my mug when I switched to water later in the day.  Still, there was no denying the popularity of those aluminum jugs and their corresponding eco-cred.

Well actually...

Well actually...

That is, until some news broke late last week. Apparently, the Swiss makers of these aluminum canteens have long claimed that their bottles tested free of Bisphenol A, or BPA, which has been suspected of being toxic to humans since the 1930’s and is now banned in many states and countries after being proven disruptive to the endocrine system.  This BPA-free claim helped them steal significant share from their rival, the highly popular plastic Nalgene bottles, which once did contain BPA.  SIGG sales soared on this news.

But SIGG sales are plummeting today as people learn that their water bottles actually did contain BPA prior to 2008–not in the aluminum bottles themselves but in their epoxy liners.  Company CEO Steve Wasik has become a symbol of corporate duplicity to this highly-engaged consumer group.  While he weakly tried to defend his actions based on his not having lied by the letter of the law (“they tested PBA free…“), his clearly-evident truth-skirting made that argument about as successful as President Clinton’s infamous “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is” foolishness.  Health-focused consumers feel betrayed and a betrayed market is not good for any commercial endeavor.

The bottom line is simple: tell the truth.  Always.  Yes, as advertisers, we have long colored the truth.  We stretch the truth; we embroider it, spin it, and stretch it to create differentiation or distinguishing properties in the sea of parity where most products live.  But we can’t outright lie.  Part of human nature is how the truth will always out; as a species, we abhor hypocrisy.  So if there’s an internal email somewhere or a secret lab report or a private health panel commission whose findings run counter to the company line, it will get leaked to the public.

Telling the truth is such a basic tenet of human behavior.  It’s also good for business.  Just ask Steve Wasik (steve.wasik.ceo@sigg.com).  By all reports, he’s a pretty nice guy but he has some very uncomfortable explaining to do now.  And a real threat to his bottom line.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79