What it takes to be a brand detective

What it takes to be a brand detective

Brand busters don’t let TV ads tell them what to do…what to wear; what toys to play with, and most important, what to eat.
 
One of the earliest Brand Busters was Ralph Nader, who in his 30s, wrote about how General Motor’s car, the Corvair, was unsafe to drive. This was in 1965, when GM was one of the most powerful US companies ever, controlling 60 per cent of the US automobile market. It was a battle between David and Goliath. And David, (in this case, Ralph Nader), won. Not only was he successful in getting customers to question GM (a very trusted brand till then), but GM also had to pay out a fortune to Nader for false accusations. And Nader had the last laugh, because over the years American customers themselves migrated to Japanese and European cars that offered better safety to drivers and better fuel efficiency! 

And right now, the very Japanese car firms that earned the trust of their loyal customers, are now in trouble. Toyota’s cars have had a number of serious problems and millions have been recalled. One particular defect could prove fatal – when drivers are trying to slow down, the car accelerates. So Toyota car buyers across the world are having their cars recalled and corrected. While US and European governments are investigating if the Japanese car firm actually tried to block early investigations into the problem. Sadly, in Japan itself, where consumer rights laws are very weak, Toyota drivers that try to claim compensation, are ignored by the car maker AND the government.

 Closer home, in 2004, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) shook the foundations of the biggest brands in India…Pepsi and Coke. The CSE, one of the most advanced laboratories in the country announced that just like their earlier exposure of bottled water brands, Coke and Pepsi too had far too much pesticide content. Naturally the 2 mega brands who normally fight each other, got together to deny CSE’s findings. The CSE, led by Sunita Narain, got the government to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to investigate, and the committee too reported that CSE’s results were true. Later on the government went back against the JPC’s ruling, but most respected environmentalists still believe CSE’s tests were accurate.

So, the days when you could trust your favourite brand, are gone. Now, do we need to be loyal to a company that fills your stomach with pesticide? Take the case of Nike…this brand that many youngsters around the world adore, has been dogged by scandal. Many American consumers were shocked to learn that the huge sums of money they paid out to own a pair of Nike, was pocketed by the top executives of the company. While the Nike Air was actually being stitched by child labourers in Pakistan or underage girls in Indonesia for pathetically low wages…now is that a ‘brand’ you want to support?  But where brands have really been busted is in the fast food business. Today, in the West, 1 in every 3 kids is obese.

And government studies in the US and UK put the blame squarely on the big brands. ..Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Burger King…all brands that kids trusted. In the UK, there are now laws that, just like with cigarettes, fast food adverts too have to carry warnings that their food could lead to obesity. AND they can no longer advertise during kids’ programmes. Not even on the adult programmes before 9 in the night, when kids might still view the offending ads!  So now you’re armed with enough information to stop blindly trusting brands! Instead, snoop around…ask questions about the truth of their claims…carbonated soft drinks that always use sportsmen in their ads, are actually ‘misleading’ you because no sportsman would remain fit while consuming so much of sugar every day!!

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